U.S. Copyright Chief Rips Google Book Deal In Testimony


The head of the U.S. Copyright Office said in written testimony Thursday that she has serious misgivings about the proposed Google Book settlement with authors, and also warned Congress that they may lose overseeing control of copyright laws.

"We are greatly concerned by the parties' end run around legislative process and prerogatives, and we submit that this Committee should be equally concerned," said Marybeth Peters, the Register of Copyrights for U.S. Copyright Office, in her written testimony.

"In the view of the Copyright Office, the settlement proposed by the parties would encroach on responsibility for copyright policy that traditionally has been the domain of Congress," Peters wrote.

Some background on the case: In 2005, The Authors Guild and The Association of American Publishers filed separate suits against Google, claiming copyright infringement by the company regarding its Google Library Project that featured text from scanned books, both in print and out of print.

After three years of legal wrangling, in October 2008 both sides agreed to a preliminary settlement to avoid a trial case, according to court documents.

In explaining its revised policy, Adam Smith, director of product management, Google Book Search, said on a blog: "When you find the book you're searching for, you'll be able to preview 20 percent of the book over the Internet from anywhere in the U.S. If you want to look at the whole thing, you'll be able to go down to your public library where there will be a computer station with access to the whole book for free."

The Copyright Office also took issue of the settlement's treatment of out-of-print titles. Peters said that it was "inconsequential as to whether the work is entitled to copyright protection under the law."

"The Google Book Settlement gives Google carte blanche permission to use out-of-print works by operation of the default rules," she wrote. "If a work is out-of-print, Google need not obtain permission before incorporating it into new 'book store' products."

Another issue that Peters raised about the proposed settlement concerned foreign works that Google scans, about which foreign rights holders and foreign governments have raised concerns about the potential impact on their exclusive rights and national, digitization projects. "The settlement, in its present form, presents a possibility that the United States will be subjected to diplomatic stress," she said.

Peter Drummond, Google senior vice president of corporate development and chief legal officer, also testified on Thursday about the benefits of Google's book project and why the settlement should be approved.

"While this [settlement] may not generate significant commercial value, it will elevate the marketplace of ideas," he said. "The settlement represents the progress of science to tackle copyright challenges and help ensure millions of out-of-print books do not fade into oblivion. To oppose this settlement means depriving the public of learning, and punishing the parties to a lawsuit for resolving their private litigation in innovative and groundbreaking ways."

The U.S. Justice Department, which has been looking into the settlement, has until Sept. 18 to present its opinion to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, which will then hold a hearing on Oct 7.