Jens Meyer/AP
A Google Book Search stand at the
International Frankfurt Book Fair
in 2007.

US Justice Department Considers Possible Antitrust Violations in Google Books Deal

June 11, 2009 07:30 PM
by Rachel Balik
After Google struck a deal with publishers allowing Google to provide Web access to millions of books, the Justice Dept. is investigating whether the agreement could violate antitrust laws.

Google Books Agreement Hits New Snag

Google and publishers are still awaiting final approval from a federal court on a $125 million deal that would give Google the right to make a number of books, both in and out of copyright, available to Web users. Meanwhile, according to Reuters, the U.S. Justice Department is investigating whether or not the agreement violates antitrust laws .

One of the main red flags in the case concerns books known as “orphans.” These are copyrighted books whose authors cannot be found. By the current agreement, Google would get the right to copy these books and make them available online, Wired’s Epicenter blog notes. James Grimmelmann, a professor at New York University, told attendees at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference that if the agreement went through, Google would have a monopoly “on Day One,” since no other company has entered into a similar deal. Google Deputy Counsel Alex Macgillivray argues that there is no monopoly, and insists that any company could arrange a similar deal.

Critics of the agreement also point to troubling privacy issues. Wired’s Epicenter explains that the new service would give Google even more access to information about users than it already has. Using the service to bookmark items would require signing in; that means that Google would know which books a user had read or searched for, unless that user was able to opt out of such tracking.

Background: Google strikes deal with publishers and authors

Simon & Schuster, McGraw-Hill Cos., Pearson Education Inc., Penguin Group and John Wiley & Sons Inc. have all agreed to a $125 million settlement with Google that will allow the Internet giant to make a collection of books available to readers on the Web.

A court date is scheduled for October 7 to investigate the fairness of the deal, but a New York judge gave Google preliminary approval last fall. The money will be primarily used to compensate publishers and authors through a Books Right Registry.

However, three major library groups, representing more than 139,000 libraries and 350,000 librarians, protested that the deal would constitute a monopoly for Google, violating antitrust laws. They also expressed concern about reader privacy.

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