To be fair, the DOJ is not entirely opposed to the concept of digitizing out-of-print published work. It agrees that there is a benefit to the public at large in providing access to information and knowledge over the Internet and that the digital library concept has merit. It just doesn’t agree that the settlement properly protects copyright holders or Google’s competitors.
The whole battle, now going on 5 years, is new territory that challenges the differences between age-old copyright law based on printed work, and how that copyright law applies to the Internet age. On the one hand, Google’s actions can be construed as altruistic and in the interest of public good. On the other hand, those same actions can be viewed as a thuggish move to steamroll authors and publishers for its own benefit.
The devil is in the details really. The concept of a digital library and providing access to out-of-print published work seems like a worthy cause at face value. There are also privacy concerns related to how Google might track and use data about the books people read. But, opponents take issue primarily with the execution of the concept and the fact that Google will profit from the work of others.
Google essentially took a ‘better to seek forgiveness than ask permission’ approach to steamrolling forward with the book scanning deal. Taking that approach forced the debate to be about how to accomplish the digital library rather than if it should be done. The settlement gives Google a semi-monopoly over the digital library and essentially buys the right to circumvent existing copyright law for $125 million.
That is why the DOJ is asking the court to reject the current settlement and direct the parties to go back to the drawing board. In its 32-page filing, the DOJ suggests that the burden of proof for finding authors of orphaned works fall on Google rather than the author, that the concerns of foreign authors and publishers be addressed, and that steps be taken to ensure an even playing field for competitors rather than providing Google a monopoly over the digital books.
With the growing popularity of eBooks it seems like digitizing the libraries of the world makes sense. Providing the general public with the ability to access out-of-print works online certainly seems like a worthwhile cause. But, based on the tidal wave of opposition to this deal it seems that nobody but Google thinks this is a good idea in its current form.
Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNewsand provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.