Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Orphans and Foundlings

News from Washington, D.C. that the U.S. Justice Department is looking into the Google books settlement with a view to determining details of Google's newly acquired right to digitize entire libraries. One important emerging problem is the potential antitrust issues that may arise from the company's ability to commercialize content on an exclusive basis. Peter Brantley, director of the Internet Archive -- another organization that is building a large online digital book collection -- has expressed the hope that U.S. District Judge Denny Chin will reject the settlement as it presently stands on the grounds that Google's ability to digitize the so-called "orphan books" (books or materials for which the copyright owner can't be found, but which are none the less covered by U.S. copyright law) gives it a free pass for infringement.

See also in this blog: Going Google
The Digibooks Row


Eric Dickens said...

Orphans raise various issues:

1) If the "orphaned" books in U.S. libraries are written by foreign authors, will Google still be able to digitalise them, under present arrangements?

2) I wonder how EU antitrust laws and U.S. ones mesh on this issue. Because even if two or three U.S. companies are doing the digitalising, this still points to a U.S. monopoly. In other words, if Internet Archive and Google divide the digitalised books world between them, there will be little genuine competition from Europe and elsewhere.

3) When the copyright owner "can't be found", is there any time limit on the search for same? As the law of copyright is long, is there also a cut-off date for a search after which the book is deemed orphaned?

Eric Dickens said...

Concern about the Google Book Settlement is spreading to Europe. In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung for 29th April 2009 journalist Hannes Hintermeier has written an article starting with the sentence "Die Widerstand kommt spät, aber er kommt". While I'm not sure that the journo or proofreader got his gender for the word "Widerstand" right, the rest of the article suggests that resistance is growing. Next week, the so-called notification period, where publishers can opt out of the agreement, comes to an end. The paper says that it is likely that a New York judge will extend this period by sixty days. The Academy of German Booksellers has used terms such as "reversing the burden of proof" and "blackmail". In Philadelphia, lawyer Michael Boni is calling for a class action. Brit Michael Healy wants to set up a committee of publishers and authors to distinguish books under copyright and those that are not. And so on.

Suffice it to say that the world has woken up to this rather hubristic attempt by Google, but the tone of the opposition is above all caution. No one wants to alienate Google, which has provided the world with very useful services, too much.

David McDuff said...

The article, David gegen Googliath, is here.

Eric Dickens said...

I see that in Dagens Nyheter for 5th May 2009 there is an article about this Google copyright business. At:

Note the different approach: the German publishers' association was critical of Google; the Swedish publishers' association sat on the fence, leaving it to individuals to decide for themselves.