This Tuesday, Public Knowledge filed a brief asking the court not to approve the proposed Google Book Search settlement as it is currently constructed. The proposed settlement raises significant antitrust and class action procedural concerns. In plain English, these concerns are that the settlement represents an attempt to license a lot of books belonging to people who are unable to protest, set up a system to pay other people for the use of those books, and give a single party the exclusive right to use many of those books indefinitely. Read on for some more detail about our concerns.
But first, let’s be clear: We want online access to all books for everyone. We want a world without orphan works, where one can either find a copyright’s owner and seek to license use of their work, or else that work is available for use by all. We want all books to be made accessible so that the blind can read everything the sighted can. We are happy with Google’s current lawful scanning, indexing, and excerpting of all books, and the ability it provides to locate works which would otherwise lay dormant. We would like to find a way that anyone who wants to can offer the public even more complete access. And we have no doubt that whatever happens, Google will continue to offer searches of all books, offer full, accessible access to the books it has licensed, and find ways to locate as many rightsholders as possible to obtain more licenses.
But access through a single party is not true access: What we do not want is for books to be made available only through a single company that has, through judicial gymnastics, obtained the only possible license to those works. What we don’t want is a system where the books of absent authors are being sold and the unclaimed proceeds are going to those who should be finding those authors in the first place.