Monday, March 16, 2009

The Great Book Bank Robbery, Part 17: The US Debate

The US Debate has started over the Google Book Search settlement with two big debates taking place at Georgetown and Columbia. Some interesting blogs have started to appear from leading publishing players. Importantly the clock keeps ticking ever closer to 5th May.

Some perspectives worth considering:

Congressional Research Service
The Google Library Project: Is Digitization for Purposes on Online Indexing Fair Use Under Copyright Law? by Kate M Manuel, Legislative Attorney

This charts the proceedings and outlines the settlement with respect to US law and draws no conclusions but asks many questions.

Google and the Zombie Army of Orphans by James Grimmelmann, Associate Professor at New York Law School, where he is affiliated with the Institute for Information Law and Policy. James spoke at both the Georgetown and Columbia debates. Below is a short extract on his thinking.

Instead, this is a structural settlement; it reshapes the entire book industry by giving Google and Google alone access to this comprehensive out-of-print backlist. To make that happen, the settlement takes away the rights of people who aren’t before the court. Indeed, knowing what we do about the orphan works problem in copyright law, we know that these absent class members are highly unlikely to be able to do anything about this massive giveaway to Google taking place supposedly in their name.

It’s a version of Russell’s paradox, applied to class action litigation. There’s a class here that consists of all people who don’t realize they’re part of it. Under the guise of this class action, the named plaintiffs have been able to use the huge collection of orphan works copyrights as a bargaining chip. The named plaintiffs negotiated away everyone else’s rights, lining up all those millions of books for Google’s benefit. The orphans have become zombies, raised from the dead by the dark magic of a class action, turned into a shambling army under Google’s sole control.

The Library law blog:
Google Books Settlement at Columbia: Part 1
Google Books Settlement at Columbia: Part 2

Mary Bet Peters, the Register of Copyrights, suggests that huge public policy issues raised by the settlement may be better addressed through legislation and noted that not one member of Congress has asked the Copyright Office to comment on the settlement!

Randal C. Picker from the University of Chicago Law School is ‘troubled’ by the consumer purchase model found in the settlement saying the pricing algorithm is aimed maximizing revenue from sales, which sounds a lot like antitrust to him. Also that the settlement allows Google and the Registry to turn orphan works into a private public domain.

It was interesting that all speakers said that they found the settlement difficult to read and understand and these were copyright and legal experts!

We did a search on ‘Great Book Bank Robbery’ on this blog and discovered that this is the 17th article we have written on the subject. We see the US is now starting to debate the issues but ask where the UK and European debate is and is there going to be an open debate at LBF and the BA conference similar to that now taking place in the US?.

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