Google Book Deal Can Survive the Scrutiny

Changes can answer antitrust concerns, even as Google amasses power over books

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Google has risen to defend its deal with authors and publishers that would allow Google to scan books and make them available over the Web, amid reports the U.S. Justice Department is looking into antitrust concerns raised about the pact. Google Book Search's Adam Smith explained on the company's blog how the deal will benefit readers:

Since the vast majority of these books are out of print, to actually read them you have to hunt them down at a library or a used bookstore. And if you can't find them -- because the only known copy is at a library on the other side of the country--you're unfortunately out of luck.

The settlement won't just expand access to out-of-print books, either. Because authors and publishers will have the ability to let users preview and purchase their in-print books through Google Book Search, readers will have even more options for accessing in-print books than they have today.

He also notes that the deal will set a precedent for similar pacts around the world.

Part of the concern is that Google will get a monopoly over many books, particularly those whose copyright holders can't be identified.

There is a also a broader concern that Google is getting too much power over books, as expressed by that Richard Koman at ZDNet:

Google’s entire business model is the commoditization of other people’s content. See Google News, Gmail, AdSense/Adwords, etc. Book Search puts Google in the driver’s seat of determining how online books are monetized, at what rates, what share Google, authors and publishers get, how the metrics are determined. Books are reduced to data. Competitors are cut out. Other players remain unable to use the orphan works. Google leverages the audience.

Newspapers will die because they have been commoditized out of existence (with some fatal mistakes of their own along the way.) Do we really want books to go the same way?

That might be true, but is too vague for Justice Department investigators. Instead, the deal will likely go through, perhaps with some changes that meet the core antitrust beefs. Google may also have to respond to other concerns about protecting reader privacy and making public the data the agreement generates about authors and copyrights.

Many of the potential changes are outlined in a paper by James Grimmelman of the New York Law School. But in the end, he says:

...the settlement is a good thing. Everyone is better off than they would be in a world without Google Book Search...