Yesterday, Google’s goal to incorporate most books into its search engine fell apart as a judge struck down the class action settlement Google had reached with one group of copyright holders.
Judge Denny Chin was strongly swayed by the fact that so many copyright holders objected to the settlement as did the Department of Justice. He was especially concerned about how the settlement “would arguably give Google control over the search market…Google’s ability to deny competitors the ability to search orphan books would further entrench Google’s market power in the online search market.” (p.37)
Google’s cavalier approach to the rights of copyright holders didn’t seem to sit well with the judge as well. “Only Google has engaged in the copying of books en masse without copyright permission,” the judge wrote and separately quoted favorably an objector to the settlement who said, “Google pursued its copyright project in calculated disregard of authors’ rights. Its business plan was : ‘So, sue me.’”
Many advocates had condemned the potential privacy concerns in letting a private company track book reading habits. As Electronic Privacy Information Center President Marc Rotenberg has explained, this settlement would “turn upside down” well established safeguards for reader privacy, including state privacy laws, library confidentiality obligations, and the development of techniques that minimize privacy intrusions. While Judge Chin did not make the privacy issue a central part of his ruling, he argued that “The privacy concerns are real” and that “certain additional privacy protections could be incorporated” in a revised settlement.