Germany Blasts Google Book Deal

Google’s plan to digitize millions of books would violate German copyright law and the country’s privacy protections for Internet users, the German government said in a U.S. court filing.

Germany opposes a proposed settlement — which Google reached with the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers, among others, in October 2008 — because Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) could digitize books by German authors without their consent, according to filing dated Monday.

It was signed by Johannes Christian Wichard, deputy director general of the Directorate Commercial and Economic Law, in Germany’s Justice Ministry.

Wichard said the deal would allow Google to “flout German laws that have been established to protect German authors and publishers, including with respect to digital copying, publishing and the dissemination of their works.”

“The decision of this court with respect to this settlement will have the dramatic and long-range effect of creating a new worldwide copyright regime without any input from those who will be greatly impacted — German authors, publishers and digital libraries and German citizens,” he said, noting that German authors not published in the United States were not represented by the Authors Guild.

Under the settlement, authors have until the end of this week to tell Google that they do not want their books digitized. A hearing on approval of the settlement is set for Oct. 7 in Manhattan federal court.
Critics have said the deal would allow Google — and only Google — to digitize so-called orphan works, which could pose an antitrust concern. Orphan works 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.

Wichard also noted clashes between Google’s plans and German requirements that Internet users’ privacy be ensured.

“By failing to ensure similar or adequate privacy protections, the settlement violates well-established national and international privacy laws,” Wichard wrote.

The digitizing deal has divided the tech, publishing and antitrust worlds.

Google’s rivals Microsoft and Yahoo oppose the deal while the American Library Association and Association of Research Libraries asked for court oversight. They fear the deal gives Google the unimpeded ability to set prices for libraries, once they scan books and put them on the Internet. If the service becomes a necessity for libraries they would face monopoly pricing, Google’s opponents say.

The U.S. Justice Department is investigating the deal while European Union antitrust enforcers, prompted by Germany, have said they would study it.

In Brussels, the European Union’s media commissioner, Viviane Reding, welcomed Google’s initiative. “It is good to see that new business models are evolving which could allow bringing more content to an increasing number of consumers,” Reding said in a statement last week.

The proposed settlement would settle a lawsuit filed in 2005 by the Authors Guild. The Guild and a group of publishers had alleged copyright infringement.

Google has agreed to pay $125 million to create a Book Rights Registry, where authors and publishers can register works and receive compensation.

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