U.S. Copyright Office Says "Fuck Google" to Congress
*If you don't know what the hell is going on here, please read or listen to this interview first*

Marybeth Peters, The Register of Copyrights for the U.S. Copyright Office, testified before Congress yesterday in a surprise hearing about the Google Book Settlement:

"Chairman Conyers, Ranking Member Smith, and Members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to testify about the impact of the proposed Google Book Settlement Agreement on U.S. copyright law and policy as part of this hearing on Competition and Commerce in Digital Books.

"The Copyright Office has been following the Google Library Project since 2003 with great interest. We first learned about it when Google approached the Library of Congress, seeking to scan all of the Library's books. At that time, we advised the Library on the copyright issues relevant to mass scanning, and the Library offered Google the more limited ability to scan books that are in the public domain. An agreement did not come to fruition because Google could not accept the terms.

"In 2005, we followed very closely the class action filed by The Authors Guild and its members and the infringement suit filed by book publishers shortly thereafter. The facts of the underlying lawsuits are simple. Google was reproducing millions of protected books in their entirety, without permission of the copyright owners, through systematic scanning operations set up with large research libraries. Once scanned, the books were indexed electronically, allowing end-users to search by title and other bibliographic information. Google returned hits to its customers that included the option of browsing "snippets" (e.g. several lines of the book), except for public domain books, which could be viewed and downloaded in their entirety. Google's search engine is free to users, but the company collects substantial revenue from the advertising that appears on web pages, including those pages on which images of, and information from, copyrighted books appear. The lawsuits raised complex and sometimes competing legal questions, including questions about intermediate copying, future markets, book digitization goals and fair use. Members of the legal community and the public debated the issues vigorously and anticipated what a Court decision on the merits might look like.

"When the parties announced last fall that they had reached a settlement in what was becoming a long and protracted litigation, our initial reaction was that this was a positive development. But as we met with the parties, conversed with lawyers, scholars and other experts, and began to absorb the many terms and conditions of the settlement -- a process that took several months due to the length and complexity of the documentsâ€Â"we grew increasingly concerned. We realized that the settlement was not really a settlement at all, in as much as settlements resolve acts that have happened in the past and were at issue in the underlying infringement suits. Instead, the so-called settlement would create mechanisms by which Google could continue to scan with impunity, well into the future, and to our great surprise, create yet additional commercial products without the prior consent of rights holders. For example, the settlement allows Google to reproduce, display and distribute the books of copyright owners without prior consent, provided Google and the plaintiffs deem the works to be "out-of-print" through a definition negotiated by them for purposes of the settlement documents. Although Google is a commercial entity, acting for a primary purpose of commercial gain, the settlement absolves Google of the need to search for the rights holders or obtain their prior consent and provides a complete release from liability. In contrast to the scanning and snippets originally at issue, none of these new acts could be reasonably alleged to be fair use.

"In the view of the Copyright Office, the settlement proposed by the parties would encroach on responsibility for copyright policy that traditionally has been the domain of Congress. The settlement is not merely a compromise of existing claims, or an agreement to compensate past copying and snippet display. Rather, it could affect the exclusive rights of millions of copyright owners, in the United States and abroad, with respect to their abilities to control new products and new markets, for years and years to come. We are greatly concerned by the parties' end run around legislative process and prerogatives, and we submit that this Committee should be equally concerned.

"As outlined below, the Copyright Office also believes that some of the settlement terms have merit and should be encouraged under separate circumstances. For example, the creation of a rights registry for book authors, publishers and potential licensees is a positive development that could offer the copyright community, the technology sector and the public a framework for licensing works in digital form and collecting micro-payments in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Likewise, the promise to offer millions of titles through libraries in formats accessible by persons who are blind and print disabled is not only responsible and laudable, but should be the baseline practice for those who venture into digital publishing. The ability of copyright owners and technology companies to share advertising revenue and other potential income streams is a worthy and symbiotic business goal that makes a lot of sense when the terms are mutually determined. And the increased abilities of libraries to offer on-line access to books and other copyrighted works is a development that is both necessary and possible in the digital age. However, none of these possibilities should require Google to have immediate, unfettered, and risk-free access to the copyrighted works of other people. They are not a reason to throw out fundamental copyright principles; they are a pretext to do so.

"In the testimony below, we will address three specific points. First, we will explain why allowing Google to continue to scan millions of books into the future, on a rolling schedule with no deadline, is tantamount to creating a private compulsory license through the judiciary. This is not to say that a compulsory license or collective license for book digitization projects may or may not be an interesting idea. Rather, our point is that such decisions are the domain of Congress and must be weighed openly and deliberately, and with a clear sense of both the beneficiaries and the public objective.

"Second, we will explain why certain provisions of the proposed settlement dramatically compromise the legal rights of authors, publishers and other persons who own out-of-print books. Under copyright law, out-of-print works enjoy the same legal protection as in-print works.1 To allow a commercial entity to sell such works without consent is an end-run around copyright law as we know it. Moreover, the settlement would inappropriately interfere with the on-going efforts of Congress to enact orphan works legislation in a manner that takes into account the concerns of all stakeholders as well as the United States' international obligations.

"Finally, we will explain that foreign rights holders and foreign governments have raised concerns about the potential impact of the proposed settlement on their exclusive rights and national, digitization projects. The settlement, in its present form, presents a possibility that the United States will be subjected to diplomatic stress."

Read the rest of Peters' testimony here!


Additionally, check out testimony from Google, Amazon, "The Author's Guild," and many others:

David C. Drummond
Senior Vice President of Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer
Google Inc.

"I am paid a tremendous amount of money to say please support this Settlement."


Paul Misener
Vice President of Global Policy

"I am paid a tremendous amount of money to say please do not support this Settlement."


Marc Maurer, J.D.
National Federation of the Blind

"Digital books are much easier to read for blind people."


John M. Simpson
Consumer Advocate
Consumer Watchdog

"This Settlement is bad for consumers."


Paul Aiken
Executive Director
Authors Guild

"Look: this was the best settlement we could negotiate without having any power, leverage, money, or clout. Sure, it sucks. But so what? SO WHAT?"


Randal C. Picker
Paul H. and Theo Leffmann Professor of Commercial Law
University of Chicago Law School

"This Settlement has severe antitrust problems."


David Balto
Senior Fellow
Center for American Progress

"Psssssh...what antitrust problems?"


Everybody has an opinion. But the U.S. Copyright Office has said: "Never mind all that. This Settlement is against the law, is not a judicial issue, and might start a war."

Bold. Damning. Huge.

Posted by miracle on Fri, 11 Sep 2009 02:07:37 -0400 -- permanent link

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