The Department of Justice is now looking into Google's proposed settlement over its Book Search service, sources tell both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal . The inquiry is said to be focused on antitrust concerns surrounding the online book deal.
Understanding Google's Settlement
The Book Search settlement, announced in October, followed a three-year battle over Google's right to display copyrighted books on its Web site. The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers claimed Google was violating copyrights by doing so. Google eventually agreed to pay $125 million to ensure authors and publishers could register to receive payments anytime their books were viewed within the service.
The deal is proving to be quite divisive, and now, with the Justice Department's reported antitrust investigation, things could get even more dicey. Here's a look at five key arguments from both sides of the debate.
Google's Book Search Deal: The Pros
1. It'd be easier to find rare and out-of-print books.
Proponents say Google's Book Search deal would make it far easier to find and preview books that are either no longer printed or are simply difficult to track down. This would include foreign language books that might typically not be widely available for purchase. Through the service, you'd be able to read 20 percent of the text.
2. You'd get access to full texts at your local library.
The settlement would allow any U.S. users to view entire texts of scanned books at public or university libraries. Schools would also be able to opt for an "institutional subscription" that'd deliver wider access to scanned books for students.
3. You'd be able to buy a full book from your own computer.
Google would provide a payment system through which you could pay a fee and read an entire book online from any computer.
4. A larger number of books would become searchable.
If Google Book Search were able to expand its offerings, more book text would become searchable over the Internet.
5. Authors would get compensated for the usage and gain an additional method of selling their work.
Authors and publishers would receive payments when users read their books online. A Books Rights Registry created through the settlement would work to track down rights-holders and make sure they received their royalties. Authors and publishers would also get a portion of revenues earned from university subscriptions and on-site advertising. Out-of-print books still under copyright would fall under the same royalty system as in-print books, giving authors a previously nonexistent market for making money off their no-longer-published titles.
Google's Book Search Deal: The Cons
1. Google could gain an unfair ability to profit from books.
Under the settlement, critics fear Google would essentially get an exclusive license to profit from countless books. Additionally, as the sole Internet book search service of its sort, Google could theoretically raise prices without any competition to keep it in check.
2. Google could gain an unfair advantage within the search engine market.
Having the expanded searchable book content within its own servers could give Google an unfair edge over its search engine competitors.
3. Authors may lose a degree of control over their work.
Some authors and publishers believe the settlement would give Google too broad a license over their work. Even with the revenue-sharing system in place, many authors feel Google would be stealing some of their rights and question the effectiveness of an "opt-out" option planned as part of the settlement.
4. Google would have complete control over so-called "orphan works."
One area of concern is a type of book known as an "orphan work" -- a book for which the rights-holders are not known, or the author cannot been located. Critics say Google's Book Search deal would give Google an exclusive license and full control over these titles, allowing it to distribute and price them at its own discretion.
5. Other companies could be negatively impacted.
The settlement may have a negative effect on other book sellers and distributors, some worry, creating a mammoth system with which they won't be able to compete.
The Next Steps
Google's Book Search settlement still has to undergo a court review. A hearing is currently scheduled for October 7 in New York.