Google, orphan books, and the Justice Department
Should Google be able to profit from millions of uncopyrighted books?
Google’s Book Search service may have hit a road bump, said Miguel Helft in The New York Times. The Justice Department is investigating whether a settlement with publishers and authors violates antitrust laws by giving Google exclusive license to profit from “orphan books," whose authors or rights holders can't be found. Google says the service will benefit authors, publishers, and readers by making millions of out-of-print books available again.
Maybe so, said Ryan Singel in Wired, but it also gives “the search-and-advertising giant a de facto monopoly to create the world’s digital library.” Considering “what’s happened to newspapers’ business models, Google’s dominance in search, and the growing popularity of the Kindle and the iPhone for reading books,” it’s “wise to be cautious” about Google Book Search.
“The agreement as structured could essentially turn Google into the sole rightsholder for orphaned works,” said John Timmer in Ars Technica, “which would mean that anyone would have to negotiate with the company over the use of these works.” But “the mere threat of antitrust action was sufficient to get Google to back away from a potential deal with Yahoo,” so who knows if Google Book Search will even survive.