What are the copyright and anti-trust issues that Google faces by digitizing books and how does this affect Google’s competition?

Google’s ambitious plan to digitize and make available online millions of books came to a halt this week due to a federal judge’s decision to strike down Google’s settlement with an author and publisher group.

jpreynolds7 , an executive manager for strategy, digital content creation and delivery says that Google has already digitized millions of books – current estimates are 15-20 million books – with or without copyright holder approvals. Many books are out-of-copyright titles, but at least one third are not. “The issue is that Google is claiming that they are only making snippets available, not the entire work, for viewing by people who discover them,” says jpreynolds. “This is called the Fair Use doctrine which is in the current digital copyright act.” Google offers to take down any title that a rights-holder asks them to and that is one of the key issues. Rights holders have to discover that their work has been copied and is now available for viewing, even in snippets. The traditional custom in publishing has been to seek permission from the author first. Google has taken an aggressive approach saying that if an author wants it taken down, they have to tell them and they will do it. In the meantime, it is made available.

The anti-trust issue centers on the so-called “orphan” titles, which are in limbo; it is not clear who the rights holder is, such as an author, estate, university, or corporation. “Google is saying they will take care of these orphan titles by making them fully available and even selling them,” says jpreynolds. “At some point, if a rights holder shows up and proves their ownership, Google will pay them any royalties earned. This is the key component to the anti-trust argument.

The decision continues to put the fate of millions of titles in doubt and enables Google to become the pre-eminent supplier of digital book content. Google is a long-term competitive threat to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Microsoft, and Yahoo. Google is moving away from it search focus toward productizing its content.

Hugh Griffin, vice president of sales and marketing for Stuart F. Cooper, Co., and an expert with 40 years experience in all aspects of printing, including acquisitions, operations, sales, and marketing, recently commented on the copyright and anti-trust issues that Google faces by digitizing books.

He thinks that Google was too ambitious to try to digitize every book. “While Google copied books in the public domain, many of which are out of print, it also freely copied books clearly protected under copyright laws in many nations,” Griffin states. “Further, Google posted snippets of copyrighted books without author permission or compensation, and that is fundamentally illegal and irresponsible.”

Griffin says that Google lost in court mainly due to pressure from the EU, where it was claimed that Google’s program would give them far too much power over out-of-print titles. “Many authors were likewise furious, but potentially unable to afford to mount a legal defense as they have no official organization to protect their rights,” he says. “The Authors Guild at times seems to claim this role; however, it accepted Google’s earlier settlement terms over the widespread refusal by many authors who belong to it. This does not include the vast majority of authors that self publish.”

According to Griffin, self-published authors need to sell their books on Amazon, Google, and other e-book platforms. Challenging the big players in court is cost prohibitive for and therefore those big players win. But this time the federal courts are slowing things down.

Amazon now finds itself competing with Google, and Microsoft and others that profit from selling content have influence over millions of self publishers. These companies arbitrarily dictate how those who own actual copyrights are paid for a sale. “Google, Amazon, and others who now dominate the book business have taken a position of dictating who can sell what books at what price and at what profit margin. They change the rules without permission and do not notify the authors who hold the rights to the books that Amazon and Google sells,” Griffin says.

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