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Amazon is fighting in federal court to overturn Google's settlement with book publishers that allowed Google Books to survive. If it can kill Google Books it will gain ground in the digital book sales market. However, if this happens many orphan works will no longer be available, and people with disabilities won't have as easy access to many works.  (Source: Faulkner University)
One of the largest internet retailers is coming out swinging against Google's book archiving

Google's ambition was simple -- offer a first-of-its-kind internet library, where people could travel online to view everything from textbooks to great works of fiction.  It began scanning books and quickly met with the ire of the publishing industry.  However, it brokered a multi-million dollar settlement with publishers that would include compensation for rights holders and means for visitors to buy the books they were viewing, with Google retaining a cut.

The deal wasn't popular with Google's competitors -- Amazon, Microsoft, and Yahoo.  These competitors recently shacked up with the Open Books Alliance, a group that was opposed to basically all things Google Books related.  The group is taking its complaints to federal court, challenging the legality of the settlement.

Yesterday, Amazon filed a particularly stinging criticism at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.  Writes Amazon, "Amazon also brings a unique perspective to this court because it has engaged in a book scanning project very similar to Google's, with one major distinction: As to books still subject to copyright protection, Amazon has only scanned those for which it could obtain permission to do so from the copyright holder."

"[The Google Books deal] is unfair to authors, publishers, and others whose works would be the subject of a compulsory license for the life of the copyright in favor of Google and the newly created Book Rights Registry.  [It] represents an unprecedented rewriting of copyright law through judicial action."

Google does have some powerful supporters as well.  Sony, the American Association for People with Disabilities, and the European Commission have all filed legal briefs in support of the settlement. 

These groups support the site for a variety of reasons.  First, it provides orphan works, which are currently unpublished and otherwise would be made unavailable.  It is estimated that over half the books published in the last century have become orphaned.  The site also provides easier access for people with disabilities such as impaired vision or impaired movement, which otherwise would have trouble getting access to these books or getting them in a form they could use.

Paul Aiken, executive director of The Authors Guild, one of the groups that settled with Google says that Amazon's criticism is self-centered.  He says they want to make Kindle the primary source of digital books.  He states, "Amazon apparently fears Google could upend its plans."

Google is essentially fighting for the service's life.  If federal courts overturn the settlement, Google's online library would likely become prohibitively expensive, and it would likely be forced to abandon the project for the time being.  Microsoft, Amazon, and Yahoo wouldn't be terribly sad to see this happen.

Google and its supporters from civil rights groups and advocates for people with disabilities will be holding a press conference later this afternoon in defense of the settlement.  We'll post an update then.

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By Spivonious on 9/3/2009 11:19:50 AM , Rating: 2
Under copyright laws you aren't allowed to photocopy books, which is essentially what Google is doing, regardless of whether or not the contents of the book are public domain or the book is no longer published.

If Google is trying to sell electronic copies of these books with the publishers' permission, then Amazon has no case; they just fear competition.

Can someone clear this up for me?

RE: Confused
By amanojaku on 9/3/2009 11:34:53 AM , Rating: 2
If I understand the source article correctly Google scanned crap loads of books back in 2004 to get ready for this Google Books thing. When content owners (basically, authors and publishers) found out they sued Google and won a $125M settlement in October 2008. I'm not a lawyer, but my understanding is that the settlement allows Google to continue as long as the plaintiffs get their cut. Amazon and other competitors, being whiny b1tches, are challenging the legality of the settlement, which, if reversed, means one less MAJOR headache for their book businesses.

RE: Confused
By bhieb on 9/3/2009 12:00:08 PM , Rating: 3
The big problem I have with it (and I think part of why Amazon is up in arms), is that it is yet another Google Opt-Out scheme. The settlement as I see it gives Google the right to just scan it all, and only pay if asked to do so. If you don't ask your orphaned.

That is what Amazon is pissed about, the law is that you cannot do that. They actually ask permission first, and played by the rules. Now Google comes along, ignores the rules, and gets a settlement condoning that behavior. it is a disturbing precedence IMHO.

Better to ask forgiveness that permission should be their corporate moto.

RE: Confused
By hypocrisyforever on 9/3/2009 12:28:19 PM , Rating: 3
You know, I didn't have much against google publishing all this free "knowledge". However...when you put it like is a little unsettling. "We will scan and publish everything....whether or not you know it, come get your money if you are somehow aware."

RE: Confused
By bhieb on 9/3/2009 1:11:27 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah I'm a big google fan, and they do some good things, but this is not their first time with the whole opt-out thing. Street view is another good "grey area" example. Sure my front porch is technically public domain, but to just blanket scan the country and then say hey if you don't want that image on Google you can opt-out. Nothing illegal, just unsettling.

With Google the ends justify the means, the end result is a 99% good idea with 1% of the group fitting the exception. In that case opt out makes sense, but it still rubs me the wrong way. Here though it is not 99%, sure some works are orphaned, but they cannot just assume that they are unless asked otherwise.

Funny take on it from the onion.

RE: Confused
By Oregonian2 on 9/3/2009 2:42:16 PM , Rating: 4
Wonder if the RIAA would go along with Google's idea.

Allow college students to download (copy) copyrighted musical works however much they want, only having to be paid for when notified by the copyright owner -- and be paid only a fixed amount that was determined in a lawsuit that perhaps those copyright owners hadn't participated in (perhaps not even having a copyright at the time).

Think they'd go for that?

RE: Confused
By chrnochime on 9/3/2009 9:51:33 PM , Rating: 3
I wouldn't know what "Better to ask forgiveness that permission" means, but how the heck is this any different from borrowing books from Library, and scanning them yourself? Yes quality might be questionable, but the point is, it's the same.

But yes, because now Google is the new MS, people have a new found purpose in life; That is, to bash Google at every opportunity.

Rate me down if you will. I couldn't care less LOL.

RE: Confused
By foolsgambit11 on 9/4/2009 1:47:40 AM , Rating: 2
If you check out a book from the library and copy it, then you're breaking copyright law (unless you fall under one of the exceptions, not likely), and could (in theory) be sued. But of course, it's pretty difficult for the copyright holder to find out and take you to court.

On the other hand, Google is copying these books and then making them available in a way that makes them an easy target to go after. Their (before settlement, and possibly even now) illegal actions were damaging enough to the copyright holder's pocketbook that it was worth going after them.

Consider this: software is also protected by copyright - imagine if Google made software available under the same terms as this agreement. Does it sound fair that Microsoft would have to opt out of having Windows 7 available for free from Google?

Now I personally think copyright laws should be reworked with shorter durations and clearer, more liberal fair use rules. But even then, this particular Google idea has some serious issues if they want to use copyrighted works without the holders' permission.

RE: Confused
By PlasmaBomb on 9/4/2009 8:39:32 AM , Rating: 2
You are allowed to produce a copy for the purposes of research for a non-commercial purpose or private study. Although the copy is limited to a ‘reasonable proportion’ of the book.

What constitutes a reasonable proportion is not defined. The British Copyright Council has suggested a limit of 10%, the Library Association / CILIP 5%. The British Library has a 10% limit.

RE: Confused
By bhieb on 9/4/2009 10:22:02 AM , Rating: 2
I wouldn't know what "Better to ask forgiveness that permission" means

It means exactly what it says. Some people and corporations have the attitude of doing whatever the hell they want in hopes no one will catch them. When they do get caught they want "forgiveness", in this case a settlement. When the correct thing to do would be to ask "permission" in the first place. That is why Amazon is pissed, they did the "right" thing and asked permission, played by the rules, invested money and resources to do so. The Google comes along violates all the rules, gets a slap on the wrist, and a vauge blanket approval to continue it's behavior.

How you managed to troll this into a MS issue I'll never know. MS's offenses where certainly more grey area. This was an undeniable violation of existing copyright law. It wasn't "if we bundle our browser is that anti competitive" that would be open to interpretation. The act of scanning a copyrighted book and making it available is clearly a violation.

Google knew this. Google is very smart, and they may have done this with the sole intent of getting the courts involved (if so good for them the laws need reform). Either way they chose to do it, permission/laws be damned, then ask forgiveness later.

RE: Confused
By Alexstarfire on 9/7/2009 8:02:04 AM , Rating: 1
To be fair you couldn't honestly expect them to contact every copyright owner and then ask them for permission. They'd be doing that until the end of fucking time. I'm honestly not sure how else they could have gone about it. Obviously not the legal way to handle it, but I don't see any reasonable way to legally handle it.

RE: Confused
By JediJeb on 9/3/2009 12:03:22 PM , Rating: 3
I would have the same question about this, especially concerning works that are public domain and out of print.

My personal feeling on the matter is the same with books and music, if it is no longer being sold, then it should become public domain. Also the publishers would not like my ideas as I feel the only one who should have the rights to a work are its authors. Music and books should belong to the author/performer and publishers should only be granted distribution rights and the author/performer can decide it they sign an exclusive deal to publish or not. Rights to works should not be transferable from the original author to anyone else, once that person or persons die then the work becomes public domain. This should apply to all works, art, technical writings, journal articles, ect. The only protection that should carry into perpetuity is that of acknowledgement of the originating author so that credit is given where credit is due.

RE: Confused
By Spivonious on 9/3/2009 12:39:25 PM , Rating: 2
Forget about measuring whether or not it's being sold and just reduce the number of years to something more reasonable than the lifetime of the copyright owner. They did it with pharmaceuticals; let's apply the 7 year limit to everything.

RE: Confused
By BladeVenom on 9/3/2009 1:17:53 PM , Rating: 3
We should go back to the original Copyright Act of 1790 with a 14 year term of copyright with a single renewal term of 14 years if the copyright holder is still alive.

Just a couple of years ago an economics professor calculated that a 14 year copyright was the optimal term. So the original law had it right. Too bad todays politicians are so corrupt and owned by the copyright MAFIAA.

RE: Confused
By JediJeb on 9/3/2009 3:57:40 PM , Rating: 5
I could go along with this as opposed to my ideas. But it definately has to include the clause that only the original author can hold the copyright. Things like Michael Jackson buying the rights to the Beatles music just never made sense to me. And people continuing to cash in on the work of someone who is dead also rubs me the wrong way. If a radio station wants to play some of Elvis' music today, I don't think they should not have to pay a royality to anyone for it, since he can't benefit from it. If I write a book then I should benefit from selling it, but once I am dead, let the world have it for free, anyone who would want to benefit from it can learn to earn their own way in the world not mooch off of what I did.

RE: Confused
By ChristopherO on 9/3/2009 5:23:05 PM , Rating: 2
But that isn't quite fair either... Sure, there might be corporate moochers, but you would need to say "the original copyright holder or their descendants." I bust my butt creating some things, because I hope it will eventually support my family. If Elvis' estate wants permanent rights in a family trust or something, that's fair. If the artists themselves are altruists they can release something on the public-domain... Strangely none of them ever do that, because they want to get paid like the rest of us.

If something is truly orphaned, no copyright holder, no family member, no practical use, etc, than that should be free. However if there is legitimate revenue potential, well, someone deserves a cut. Even Michael Jackson's estate if he rightfully purchased the copyrights from the Beetle's original copyright holder. Why? The original copyright holder took a large one-time payment in lieu of years of royalties (which might have been a trust representing the Beetles, I don't know, or EMI even since they were their record company).

RE: Confused
By mcnabney on 9/3/2009 5:55:46 PM , Rating: 2
Music is different. Congress passed a law some time ago that made ALL MUSIC fee-for-service, so the publisher owns the music instead of the artist. So unless you own your own label, you don't own your own work as a musician. That is why Michael Jackson owned the Beatles music, he bought the rights from the publisher who had no emotional attachment to the songs.

RE: Confused
By MadMan007 on 9/3/2009 9:37:02 PM , Rating: 2
You don't need to pass IP on in an inheritance in order for it to benefit or support one's family. Frankly that's just being greedy.

RE: Confused
By Jalek on 9/4/2009 2:54:52 AM , Rating: 2
Just think, if Shakespeare would've had these laws, we could be seeing the 20th generation of descendants of his having never done a thing in any of their lives, just living from proceeds of his plays.

Of course we would only know of them from paid performances at whatever cost they thought was right.

RE: Confused
By Jalek on 9/4/2009 2:49:08 AM , Rating: 2
It depends on if it's art or not. Art supposedly has it's own value, commercial capital has another and is usually subject to a variety of taxes.

The purpose of the short durations initially was to allow things like derivative works to appear and if one was inspired by a work, they didn't have to fear being sued into bankruptcy if they came too close to copying something that's probably not even in print anymore as the original publisher got their money and moved on.

It was the whole "good of society" ideal that nobody thinks is a good idea anymore, those old guys in wigs were obviously insane. It's all about the perpetual corporations that can tie everything up for hundreds of years since they can buy legislation at will.

Reform copyright laws
By nafhan on 9/3/2009 11:27:53 AM , Rating: 2
If copyright laws were a little more reasonable in the first place, we wouldn't have most of these problems.

RE: Reform copyright laws
By RMSe17 on 9/3/2009 12:19:08 PM , Rating: 4
Most of these laws are so far gone into some theoretical world, that they make absolutely no sense in the practical sense.

Example: I buy a DVD and I am not allowed to make a copy for my self? Come on, what the heck?!

I buy a BR movie, and I can't play it on my computer without buying some special Audio Card to give me lossless audio. Because they try to stop pirating. Ummm.. what?!

100 years ago things like this would be laughed at. Now it's all of a sudden a reality.

RE: Reform copyright laws
By nafhan on 9/3/2009 4:14:59 PM , Rating: 3
Exactly, reminds me of Anand's recent sound card article:
The content owners however were very nervous about putting these audio tracks on BDs, specifically allowing PC users access to them. After all, if you had unencrypted access to one of these tracks you could potentially...uh...idunno, turn them into MP3s? Stop going to the movies? I have no idea.

Amazon's right
By ZachDontScare on 9/3/2009 2:32:49 PM , Rating: 2
I think Amazon's right here. Not that their motives are purely self-less or anything. But the basic point of a copyright is that the owner maintains the right to control how his work is copied. Google is clearly violating this. It doesnt matter how high headed their intent is, they simply have no right to copy peoples' works without prior consent, period.

RE: Amazon's right
By TomZ on 9/4/2009 1:30:44 PM , Rating: 2
Nah, Amazon is just responding to a threat to its own attempt to dominate the ebooks market.

And the settlement pays the copyright owners, so I think your point it moot.

RE: Amazon's right
By tmouse on 9/8/2009 8:23:18 AM , Rating: 2
Actually, it's not really moot. Google is planning on offering books without any effort to secure permission before doing so. IF an author wants to be compensated THEY have to sign up to Google's "registry" and accept the rate of payment Google has set forth. Simply put; it removes the copyright holders rights to negotiate a rate (if they want a rate that would make the work unsellable that is their right). Copyright holders should not be forced to "opt out". This is a serious change in copyright law and needs to be addressed. Why can't Google secure rights first and then make the decision to accept the terms or pass on the offering like EVERYONE else HAS to? While I totally support the notion of offering out of print books I do not feel Google should have the right to change laws to suite its own desires.

By akugami on 9/3/2009 5:41:44 PM , Rating: 2
Ok. I'm not the greatest with copyright law and I'm certainly not into all the details of everyone's contracts and settlements but if I read the blogs correctly, wasn't Google's deal non-exclusive? Meaning anyone can cut a deal with the same authors/guilds/whatever?

The sticky part of the whole deal is the issue on orphaned works. I really feel that Congress should step in and make all works that are copyrighted but the copyright owner can't be found or does not exists anymore. For instance, corporation owns the rights to a manuscript, perhaps it's a technical how-to book, but the corporation folded and is now out of business. While technically the corporation still owns the copyrights but it no longer exists. Let's just throw the book in the public domain. Another case is if a copyright owner, a person, died.

And I wish they do that with all works, not just books but other copyrights as well. If the original copyright (or patent) owner is dead and there is no one who now owns the works, let's just throw it in the public domain.

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007

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