A federal judge in New York City rejected a settlement today that would have allowed Google to scan millions of books and sell them online. The proposed settlement was the result of a class-action lawsuit brought by the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers back in 2005 for books that were out of print but still in copyright. Publishers and authors had agreed to a $125 million settlement to establish a Book Rights Registry in order to get paid when the titles are viewed online. In exchange, Google could keep scanning books and amass the world’s biggest online repository. Or as the United States register of copyrights put it, it would give Google “a license to infringe first and ask questions later.” In his ruling today, Judge Danny Chin said:
“While the digitization of books and the creation of a universal digital library would benefit many,” Google’s current pact would “simply go too far.”
For one, it wouldn’t be just a library where users are free to borrow. Google has been trying to spin its database as providing easier access to hard-to-find titles and increasing the world’s knowledge. But that access can sometimes come at a price for consumers and rivals. Indeed, as part of the settlement, Google would have the right to sell subscriptions to an online database and hock online access to individual books.
Chin said the deal would “give Google a significant advantage over competitors, rewarding it for engaging in wholesale copying of copyrighted works without permission.” In any earlier concession to antitrust worries, Google said it would allow rivals like Amazon to sell online copies of out-of-print books. However, Kindle, the e-reader for Google’s biggest competition, isn’t compatible with Google’s library.
But the Google Internet Domination Tour can’t be ground to a halt by just one ruling. Judge Chin suggested a simple amendment that would change his mind: Rather than have copyright owners “opt out” of the class-action settlement, allow them to “opt in.” Larry Page has a decision to make: follow Chin’s orders and open Google up to more lawsuits? Or for once in Google’s life give up on trying to get a stranglehold on an industry and just scan books when it gets permission.