Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Justice Department Opposes New Google Book Settlement

This posting was written by Darius Sturmer, Editor of CCH Trade Regulation Reporter.

Despite the substantial progress reflected in the proposed amended settlement agreement in The Authors Guild Inc. et al. v. Google Inc., the U.S. Department of Justice has advised the federal district court in New York City that class certification, copyright, and antitrust issues remain.

The settlement agreement between Google and the authors and publishers aims to resolve copyright infringement claims brought against Google by The Authors Guild and five major publishers in 2005, arising from Google's efforts to digitally scan books contained in several libraries and to make them searchable on the Internet.

In a Statement of Interest filed with the court on February 4, the Justice Department said:

“Although the United States believes the parties have approached this effort in good faith and the amended settlement agreement is more circumscribed in its sweep than the original proposed settlement, the amended settlement agreement suffers from the same core problem as the original agreement: it is an attempt to use the class action mechanism to implement forward-looking business arrangements that go far beyond the dispute before the court in this litigation.”

On September 18, 2009, the Justice Department submitted views to the court on the original proposed settlement agreement.

At that time, it proposed that the parties consider changes to the agreement, such as imposing limitations on the most open-ended provisions for future licensing, eliminating potential conflicts among class members, providing additional protections for unknown rights holders, addressing the concerns of foreign publishers and authors, and providing a mechanism by which Google’s competitors can gain comparable access. (For further inforamtion on the Justice Department's objections, see September 21, 2009 posting on Trade Regulation Talk.)

In last week’s filing, the Justice Department recognized that the parties made substantial progress on a number of these issues.For example, the proposed amended settlement agreement:

Eliminates certain open-ended provisions that would have allowed Google to engage in certain unspecified future uses,

Appoints a fiduciary to protect rights holders of unclaimed works,

Reduces the number of foreign works in the settlement class, and

Removes a “most-favored nation” provision that would have guaranteed Google optimal license terms into the future.

The changes, however, do not fully resolve the government's concerns. The agency commented that the revised amended settlement agreement still confers significant and possibly anticompetitive advantages on Google as a single entity, thereby enabling the company to be the only competitor in the digital marketplace with the rights to distribute and otherwise exploit a vast array of works in multiple formats.

The Justice Department’s filing with court regarding the amended settlement is available here on the Department of Justice Antitrust Division’s web site.

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