Update: Google Book Settlement Challenged by Several Opponents

As reported previously (Blips in Google’s Book Project Settlement (posted Aug. 26, 2009)), anyone who objects to the settlement reached in the Authors’ Guild must file their objections no later than September 4, 2009. The hearing on the settlement is currently scheduled for October 7, 2009 and would presumably consider any objections filed before the deadline.

Since the prior posting, a number of things have occurred:

* The Open Book Alliance released a statement on August 26, 2009, explaining its objection to the settlement as opposition to the potential monopolization and exclusive control by the proposed Book Registry over public access to any of the books scanned into the database. Their site has an interesting collection of resources about public objection to the Google Book Settlement.

* The German Government filed its objection on August 31, 2009, claiming that the Authors’ Guild did not represent the interests of German authors, publishers, digital libraries or citizens. (See Diane Bartz, “Germany: Google book deal violates copyright law,” Reuters, Sept. 1, 2009).

* Amazon filed its objection on September 1, 2009, claiming that the settlement will vest in Google a monopoly power in being the sole provider of digital book distribution with respect to the works included in the digital database. See Jessica E. Vascellaro and Geoffrey A. Fowler, “Amazon Objects to Google’s Books Pact,” The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 3, 2009. Moreover, in the case of works still protected by Copyright Law, but where the owner of the rights is unknown (also called “Orphan Works”), the settlement would give Google the exclusive distribution right. Since there would be no identified owner of the rights in the Book Rights Registry, presumably, Google would not have to share the revenues that it earns in connection with the Orphan Works it distributes.

* The Department of Justice’s brief opposing the settlement is currently due on September 18, 2009. See Nathan Pollard, “DOJ Opens Antitrust Investigation Into Google Book Settlement Deal,” 78 Patent, Trademark & Copyright Journal 288, July 10, 2009. In his July 2, 2009 letter to the Court, Deputy Assistant Attorney General William Cavanaugh advised that the U.S. had “opened an antitrust investigation into the proposed settlement . . . ” and had reviewed various “public comments expressing concern that aspects of the settlement agreement may violate the Sherman Act.” (Access to the links in this paragraph may be limited to BNA subscribers. Once the docket becomes available again – see below – I will try to replace what I can with publicly-accessible sources.)

* On a related topic: Europeana (a multilingual digital library collection launched by the European Commission in November 2008) has now completed the digitization of 4.6 million books, maps, photographs, film clips and newspapers in its collection, according to an August 28, 2009 press release. See European Commission’s Press Pack on Europeana.

Docket Presently Unavailable

Note that each of the objections identified in this post should be available not only through the news reports cited above, but also listed in the docket report for the Authors’ Guild v. Google case (No. 05-8136, SDNY). Unfortunately, access to the court’s electronic filing system (and presumably the public docket) has been interrupted since September 3 – and will continue to be offline until Tuesday morning (8am), September 8 – due to a scheduled system upgrade. See Notice to the Bar, Aug. 28, 2009.

Since any objections to this settlement are due to be filed no later than September 4 (today), one wonders whether many counsel for potential objectors in this case had difficulty filing their objections — or even were prevented from filing them — due solely to practical concerns.

Once access has been restored, I will try to provide links to the various filings and provide any updates/corrections that result from full access to the docket.