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Google defends Book Search deal

After the Internet lit up with stories talking about how the Department of Justice has again trained its antitrust guns on Google, this time over its Books Search settlement with authors and publishers, the search giant is trying to convince the world that the deal is ardently pro-consumer.

First, Google's official statement on the DoJ inquiry:

"The Department of Justice has contacted us to learn more about the impact of the settlement, and we are happy to answer their questions. It's important to note that this agreement is non-exclusive and if approved by the court, stands to expand access to millions of books in the U.S."

A more exuberant defense can be found on the Google Public Policy blog, where Book Search Director Adam Smith lays out scenarios where people's only chance to find the books they're looking for is through the Google project:

"Let's say you're a second-generation American interested in reading books in your parents' native language, Greek. Try finding more than a few books in foreign languages in most town libraries or bookstores in the United States.

"Or you're a graduate student who has been doing research on your thesis for years. You think you've read every book there is to read on your topic, but then you type your query into Google Book Search, and you suddenly discover a new original book or monograph that you weren't even aware of before."

In October, Google reached a $125 million settlement with the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers to end a copyright infringement lawsuit dating to 2005. The groups were claiming that Google's wholesale scanning operations of the collections of five major research libraries failed to compensate authors and publishers for their work.

Under the settlement, Google agreed to created a Book Rights Registry for authors and publishers to register and receive a share of the revenue Google will collect for subscriptions and sales.

But some groups have cried foul. They claim that the treatment of orphan works -- copyrighted books whose authors cannot be found -- is anticompetitive because it applies only to Google, meaning that if another firm wanted to create its own digital library it would be at a competitive disadvantage.

These concerns have caught the attention of some antitrust folks at the Justice Department, the same regulatory entity that [threatened suit against Google's ad deal](/government/article.php/3783346) with Yahoo last fall.

Earlier this week, in an apparently unrelated development, the New York judge overseeing the settlement agreement extended the deadline for authors of so-called orphaned works to decide whether to participate in the registry.

So Google again finds itself on the defensive, trying to prove that it's not engaging in patently anticompetitive behavior. And it does so amid a noisy chorus of critics and skeptics who take the opportunity to remind us (and the regulators) of a host of privacy concerns and other long-simmering grievances they have with the company. Why do I feel like this won't be the last time this pattern plays out?

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