March 22, 2011, 9:56 PM — A proposed agreement drafted by Google, authors and publishers to settle their years-long copyright litigation has been rejected, a major setback to Google's ambitious plans to build a massive marketplace and library for digital books.
"The question presented is whether the [proposed settlement] is fair, adequate, and reasonable. I conclude that it is not," wrote Judge Denny Chin from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in a 48-page ruling. "While the digitization of books and the creation of a universal digital library would benefit many, the [proposed settlement] would simply go too far."
The settlement would grant Google "significant rights to exploit entire books, without permission from copyright owners. Indeed, the [settlement] would grant Google a significant advantage over competitors, rewarding it for engaging in wholesale copying of copyrighted works without permission, while releasing claims well beyond those presented in the case," Judge Chin wrote.
The judge suggested that the proposal, which has already been revised once, would be more palatable from a legal standpoint if it's switched from an "opt out" to an "opt in" settlement. He also acknowledged that, at least in concept, the creation of "a universal digital library" would be beneficial to many people and organizations.
Google finds the decision "clearly disappointing" and will review its options, Hilary Ware, a Google managing counsel, said in a statement.
"Like many others, we believe this agreement has the potential to open up access to millions of books that are currently hard to find in the U.S. today. Regardless of the outcome, we'll continue to work to make more of the world's books discoverable online through Google Books and Google eBooks," she said.
The legal fight began in 2005, when the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers filed separate class-action lawsuits objecting to Google's practice of digitizing library books without always getting permission from copyright owners.
The lawsuits alleged massive copyright infringement on Google's part by scanning, storing and indexing these copyright books without authorization and making their full text searchable on the Google Books search engine.
Google argued in its defense that its practice was protected under the fair use principle because for the books in question, it only displayed brief text snippets of their content.
That litigation dragged on until October 2008 when Google and the plaintiffs surprisingly reached an agreement to settle the matter and hammered out an extremely complex proposal that soon became the target of both praise and criticism.