Authors & consumers uniting against Google book deal

Wed, Apr 29, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Google’s overreaching in trying to tightly control scanned digital copies of world literature has stuck an alarm bell with more than just consumers and the Justice Department.
    I just received this email, likening Google’s behavior to a mobster’s, from a successful author this morning after news broke in the New York Times that our consumer group had been successful in getting the Justice Department to scrutinize the Google book deal:

    I am writing in support of your efforts to challenge the Author Guild/Google settlement. As an author, I feel strong-armed into opting into the settlement because I have no other recourse to sue Google, though I know they’ve essentially stolen a number of the valuable rights to my books, and I believe they will continue to do so if I do not opt in and refuse use. But in opting in, I fear I’m offering a tacit agreement that they did not break the law, which I believe they did. Still I, and many others, have no choice. We are being blackmailed by the behemoth that is Google. It is the equivalent of forcing a store owner to pay protection money to protect themselves from their own so-called protector. It’s wrong and I encourage you to not only investigate the orphaned books situation, but to also investigate non-orphan books. I was not represented by the AG and my interests have certainly not been considered. Many authors share my frustration and concerns.

    Google’s in slow down mode, agreeing this week to give added months of scrutiny to the settlement. The Justice Department is clearly interested in the issues Consumer Watchdog raised: whether any competitor ever could enter the market given the anti-compete clause in the settlement preventing another competitor from getting a better deal than Google. Consumer groups are also very worried about every reader having to log-in and create a Google account that tracks their literary preferences in order to have access to a digital book. Once Google puts that information together with what it already knows about us, Google may know more about us than our spouses. The resulting targeting behavioral marketing will be offering us our favorite underwear in our favorite color.

    Our focus is trying to remove Google’s anti-compete agreement — the so called most favored nation status — in the settlement that prevents another company with similar ambitions from winning more favorable terms. The "most favored nation" clause guarantees Google the same terms that any future competitor might be offered. Under the most favored nation clause the registry would be prevented from offering more advantageous terms to , for example, Yahoo! or Microsoft, even if it thought better terms would be necessary to enable either to enter into the digital books business and provide competition to Google.

    Consumer Watchdog feels it is inappropriate for the resolution of a class action lawsuit to effectively create an "anti-compete" clause, which precludes smaller competitors from entering a market. Given the dominance of Google over the digital book market, it would no doubt take more advantageous terms to allow another smaller competitor to enter the market.

    The settlement also provides a mechanism for Google to deal with "orphan works." Orphan works are works under copyright, but with the rights holders unknown or not found. The danger of using such works is that a rights holder will emerge after the book has been exploited and demand substantial infringement penalties. The proposed settlement protects Google from such potentially damaging exposure, but provides no protection for others. This effectively is a barrier for competitors to enter the digital book business.

    Consumer Watchdog is focused on eliminating the most favored nation provision and extending the orphan works provision to cover all who digitize book. Now it sounds like authors have their own gripes, and they will be coming out of the woodwork too. There’s also the very serious privacy issues that need to be addressed when one company controls information about the reading habits of the world. Google needs to be more responsive to these concerns than it has in the past. The Google Trust on the Internet is bigger than the Standard Oil Trust ever was, and it will busted if the company doesn’t show a little more humility and concern for consumers than it has of late.


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