Google reportedly made a number of concessions to European officials concerned about the European implications of the Google Books Search settlement deal. The company is fighting on both sides of the Atlantic to gain regulatory and judicial acceptance of the deal previously announced, which has been criticized by a number of self-interested parties and legal observers who contend that Google will have a near monopoly of so-called “orphan” books if the deal goes through. Orphan books are those that are still covered by copyright but rights ownership is uncertain or authors cannot be located.
According to a Bloomberg story about the EU concessions:
- Google will let two representatives from outside the U.S. join a board administering its digital books settlement
- Books that are commercially available and under copyright in Europe won’t be considered out of print under a proposed settlement with U.S. publishers
At an EU hearing today in Brussels, both Google and its critics were presenting their respective cases before European Commissioners. Google blogged about the hearing and the benefits to readers of digitizing the European collection. Meanwhile opponents, including Microsoft, Amazon and Yahoo (part of the so-called Open Book Alliance), sought to play up the negatives of allowing Google to proceed.
“We are fighting this cartel that is being proposed by the parties to the U.S. settlement and Google,” Peter Brantley of the Open Book Alliance told reporters ahead of the EU hearing.
(Previously, Microsoft abandoned its own book scanning project.)
Two EU Commissioners, Viviane Reding and Charlie McCreevy, issued a joint statement generally in favor of book digitization and a US-style settlement that would be pan-European.
Germany and France have been two of the biggest critics of the US deal, however. In fact France is going to file objections to the book search deal with the US court in New York overseeing the settlement agreement. A hearing to approve the US settlement is scheduled for October 7. According to statements made to Reuters French Culture Minister Nicolas Georges expressed broad concern about Google’s control over “orphaned” material:
France is concerned about European authors’ rights, Georges said.
“There are lots of European works in Google’s database. Google can digitalise these works without the permission of European authors,” he said.
He cited worries over the copyrights of orphan works, which are books or other materials that are still covered by U.S. copyright law, but it is not clear who owns the rights to them.
“Google will have a monopoly digitalising European orphan works without permission,” Georges said.
Germany previously filed similar objections with the US court.
We can probably expect more concessions from Google in the US and abroad before the settlement deal is formally approved (and there can be a similar arrangement in Europe). I would be very surprised however if the court or regulators entirely blocked the deal. It’s pretty clear that lots of stakeholders want book scanning to proceed and that governments lack the will and resources to do it themselves.