DoJ reads Google the rule book

In Thursday's IT Blogwatch, Richi Jennings wonders if the U.S. Dept. of Justice will scupper Google's plans for world domination, at least in books. Not to mention another cut-to-the-chase moment from Jason DeFillippo...

Bobbie Johnson brings the bad news for la GOOG:

Google logo
Google is facing fresh accusations of anti-competitive behaviour ... Lawyers for the government are examining potential antitrust issues surrounding a $125m settlement made between Google and authors - in a move that could scupper the internet company's plans to create an "iTunes for books".

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The deal, struck last autumn between the web giant and authors' groups, would see Google pay $125m for the right to digitise millions of books in the US, with the intention of selling the files online and taking a significant cut of the profit ... But the proposals have concerned some other campaigners, particularly because it would give Google exclusive rights to digitise so-called orphan works - books that are still under copyright, but without any clear owner.
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John Timmer writes of other problems:

Other objections focus on the fact that Google could control the sale and distribution of out-of-print works, even if the original author decided to release it under a more liberal license... [or] censor and selectively display these works.

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As if all of these issues weren't enough, the Department of Justice may be getting involved ... due to concerns that the exclusive agreement would raise antitrust issues.
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Seth H. Weintraub sings, "There may be trouble ahead":

Google is being hit with its first (of many?) anti-monopoly inquiries by the Department of Justice this week.

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Google, of course, had defended the settlement saying it would bring revenue to authors and publishers. They also contend that it will give the public access to millions of out-of-print books.
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Erick Schonfeld pleads with Google:

Competitors are playing the monopoly card and saying that settlement would give Google an unfair advantage in book search and retrieval. And they kind of have a point. So what is the answer? Google should amend some of the terms of the settlement to make it non-exclusive and the Author’s Guild should extend the same terms to any other company or organization that wants to digitize orphan books.

In other words, Google needs to free the orphans. Don’t make this just a deal between authors and Google. Make it a deal between authors and any existing or future book digitizer. Copyright holders should also have the option to place their works under Creative Commons licenses. If Google wants to stop being treated like a monopolist, it needs to stop acting like one.
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But Google's Adam Smith inquires into the nature and causes:

As the discussion continues, it's important to understand what readers stand to gain.

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Since the vast majority of these books are out of print, to actually read them you have to hunt them down at a library or a used bookstore. And if you can't find them -- because the only known copy is at a library on the other side of the country--you're unfortunately out of luck.
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Sam Gustin has the obligatory "100 days" angle: [And a huge run-on sentence -Ed.]

After Google’s tussles with the Bush Justice Department, most notably the down-to-the-wire showdown over Google’s proposed search ad deal with Yahoo, industry watchers have been waiting for a test case to indicate how aggressively the Obama Justice Department will handle antitrust concerns about the internet giant, especially given fact that Google chief executive Eric Schmidt is a top technology adviser to President Obama.
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Meanwhile, Hugh Stimson gazes into his crystal ball:

My guess is that the search term “google antitrust” is going to get popular over the coming years. Google is like a government: they’re only as good as we make them.

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If this investigation is a move towards breaking the weird little collusion between Google and the author’s associations, maybe open scanning and searchability of books still has a chance.
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And finally...

Previously in IT Blogwatch:

Buffer overflow:

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Richi Jennings
is an independent analyst/adviser/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and spam. A 24 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You can follow him on Twitter, pretend to be Richi's friend on Facebook, or just use boring old email: blogwatch@richi.co.uk.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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