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Google Book Search Settlement Inquiry Announced

A formal confirmation has been issued by the US Department of Justice of an official inquiry into Google’s Book Search settlement.

What’s at issue is possible anti-trust dimensions of the settlement. In other words, some are worried about Google gaining a monopoly (or, consolidation of power) on the orphan book market.

Orphan books are books that are out of print but not yet in the public domain, or where their copyright holders are not possible to locate.

The Justice Department expressed concerns in its letter, issued July 2nd, of a possible violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The Act, which came into being in 1890, is meant to limit a business’ ability to dominate its competitors in the marketplace.

Google began collecting its Book Search archive back in 2004. According to a lecture given by Pamela Samuelson at UC Berkeley, Google made arrangements with some university research libraries to scan books in their collections. In return, the libraries would get back a digital library of their collections.

There are now around seven million books available in its archive, and Google’s hopes are to more than double this number.

Books that are already in the public domain are wholly available on Google Book Search, but for those that are copyrighted, only snippets are available.

If the owner objects to snippets of their book being available in the Google Book Search repository, Google says it will take their book out.

However, in 2005, the Author’s Guild and the Association of American publishers sued Google for copyright infringement on account of its scanning, storing and processing copyrighted books.

Google claimed fair use, saying it is promoting public access to information.

A settlement was reached which entailed Google to pay $45 million in compensation to copyright owners whose books were scanned.

It is this settlement which is now in question.

Samuelson asserts that the settlement would give Google a monopoly over the biggest digital collection of books in the world. The settlement would also allow Google to sell orphan books and subscriptions to them – making it the first company ever with such a right. Another major problem with the settlement is that unless copyright owners opt out of the settlement, they are effectively opting in.

Google, for its part, has vigorously defended the settlement, saying in a statement that it stands to expand access to millions of books in the US.

The fairness hearing is scheduled for October 7, 2009.

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