Where Did All of Google’s Friends Go?

According to Politico, the National Federation of the Blind is asking the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice to look into requirements at certain educational schools that students utilize Google products are discriminatory.  As it turns out,  many Google products do not work with applications that are used by blind students to translate text into speech, meaning that blind students are at a disadvantage if they are forced to use Google products.

As we’ve previously noted, all the negotiators of the GBS have left their positions, and over the last 10 days, there have been bipartisan calls from U.S. Senators for investigations into Google’s conduct.  Since Google now appears to be alienating NFB, one of the few third- party supporters of the Google Books Settlement, one has to ask whether Google has any friends left at all?

US Senate to Investigate Google Dominance?

Publishers Weekly posted an article yesterday about Senator Mike Lee’s (R-UT) letter to Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) who chairs the Senate’s Antitrust Subcommittee in which Senator Lee states:

“Google also gathers an enormous amount of consumer information through its related products and services including Gmail, Google Checkout, Google Books, and Google Web History. . . . The combination of behavioral and personal information enables Google to generate consumer data that is unprecedented in scale and scope. These activities raise serious privacy concerns and may be indicative of an important market that is largely unconstrained by competition. Antitrust enforcement may unlock beneficial competition for the protection of user privacy and avert the need for additional privacy regulation.”

As we have long argued, Google’s book scanning is little more than an attempt to glean more and more personal information about search users that can be monetized through the sale of targeted ads.  And as Senator Lee, who is the highest-ranking Republican on the subcommittee, recognized, Google’s dominance of search (and the book search vertical, if the GBS is approved), is bad for competition and bad for consumers.

It seems as though Chairman Kohl may agree – on the day before Senator Lee sent his letter, Chairman Kohl released a list of the Antitrust Subcommittee’s priorities for the year, including “closely examin[ing] allegations raised by e-commerce websites that compete with Google that they are being treated unfairly in search ranking, and in their ability to purchase search advertising. We also will continue to closely examine the impact of further acquisitions in this sector.”

The Google Book Settlement – One Year and Still Waiting

One year ago tomorrow, Judge Chin held the final Fairness Hearing for the Google Book Settlement.  As we know that all GBS watchers have been waiting on pins and needles for the last 364 days for a ruling, we thought that it might be worth looking back to review what has changed, and what has not, since February 18th, 2010.

What has changed?

Google continued its book-scanning efforts with reports pegging the total number of books scanned at 15 million at the end of 2010.  As we have long predicted, Google also stepped up its efforts to monetize its book-scanning efforts by launching Google eBooks in December, a cloud-based eBookstore.  As Publishers Weekly noted, “Google eBooks overnight becomes the largest e-book provider in the world” – a title that would likely be cemented if the Google Book Settlement is approved, effectively giving Google a court-sanctioned monopoly over millions of digitized books.  The launch of Google eBooks should dispel any remaining notion that Google is scanning books for some higher, altruistic purpose – the launch of eBooks and the acquisition of eBook Technologies just a few weeks later demonstrates that Google, as with any corporation, is simply in it for the money.

In addition to the cash that Google will rake in from eBook sales, book search advertising, and monetizing the personal data of consumers who search eBooks, Google’s move represents a push into yet another vertical market, thereby strengthening its position as the self-described “kingmaker” of the Internet.  Each time that Google moves into another market such as books, video, or maps, it does so because that market represents another source of consumer information.  The more information that Google has, the more ads it can sell, and the more advertisers it can lock into its web, further entrenching Google as the Internet’s preeminent advertising company.  As we have long argued, and the facts have long borne out, the proposed settlement is deeply flawed both in its content and the process through which it was created.  It should be rejected by the court.

As for Google’s partners in this deal – the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers – the year since the fairness hearing has brought many changes.  As we have noted, all the main negotiators of the settlement agreement have moved on from their positions, leaving no one with firsthand knowledge of the incredibly complex issues at stake to implement it should the GBS be approved.  Further, the rapid ascent of e-book commerce has both authors and publishers trying to figure out how exactly they fit in to this new digital landscape, making the massive contract abrogations inherent in the settlement even more troubling.  Authors need more control of their backlist and digital rights – not less.

In a separate, but related, development Harvard University Librarian Robert Darnton took the first steps towards the realization of a public-interest National Digital Library.  The OBA has always advocated for the mass-digitization of books, but object to a corporate monopoly overseeing that repository of knowledge.  As Darnton noted in The New York Times in January of this year, “There’s a conflict between the raison d’être of Google, which is to make money for its shareholders . . . and libraries whose goal is to make books available to readers.”

Darnton’s goal of a National Digital Library that would “make the cultural patrimony of this country freely available to all of its citizens” is precisely the kind of public-interest entity that we have long believed is necessary – in fact, OBA has laid out four principles that we believe are essential for the creation of a digital library that serves the public, rather than corporate, interest:

  • Large scale book digitization efforts must recognize their public utility and foster competitive instead of exclusive markets.
  • Long-term benefits for consumers must be prioritized and promoted over isolated commercial interests.
  • It must be done in a way that respects authors’ rights and copyrights
  • The conception of this promise must be developed in the open and grounded in sound public policy instead of through a private settlement that bypasses the responsibilities of our elected officials.

Whether or not the Darnton effort comes to fruition, his public interest model is the benchmark that all others, from Judge Chin to legislators to believers in the promise of mass digitization of books, should look to – and we should accept nothing less than that.

What has not changed?

One year ago, OBA summarized the myriad objections raised by the Department of Justice and the nearly 400 briefs filed in objection to the GBS.  While seemingly “old news”, it is vital that the stakeholders in this debate refresh their memories about just how dangerous the GBS and its implications are.  Each one remains unaddressed.

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE OBJECTIONS

In its brief, the Department of Justice outlined its key points of objection and suggested changes to the Settlement, nearly all of which were ignored by the parties in the revised settlement. Each of those points the parties have failed to address are listed below and analyzed against the revised Settlement to provide a basis upon which to conclude whether the revisions sufficiently addressed DOJ’s concerns.

I. Any forward looking business models must not use opt-out, but use opt-in for absent rightsholders;

The forward looking business models of the revised Settlement remain opt-out for absent rights holders. This is counter to standard business terms and fails to address DOJ’s objection on this point.

II. Foreign rightsholders should be adequately represented;

Foreign rightsholders in the U.K., Canada, and Australia, as well as other foreign rightsholders whose books were published in those countries, will still be bound by the terms of the revised Settlement. In addition, Google has indicated that it will continue to scan and make snippet display of foreign books that have been excluded from the revised Settlement, significantly improving their search engine and providing financial benefit to Google’s ad revenues without compensating the owners of the rights to those scanned works. Google and its partners failed to address DOJ’s concerns on foreign rightsholders.

III. Author/publisher representatives that are parties to the Settlement Agreement must be bound by the settlement and not have separate deals;

Just as with the original Settlement, the revisions did not eliminate the ability of the parties to opt-out of the terms they negotiate on behalf of an entire class so that they can negotiate separate and, presumably better, terms for themselves on the side. On this issue, Google and its partners failed to adhere to DOJ’s suggestion.

IV. Funds escrowed from unclaimed works cannot be diverted to other rightsholders;

The amended Settlement creates an “Unclaimed Works Fiduciary” that somewhat alleviates this concern, although the independence of the UWF is questionable. Its governing board will be appointed by the class representatives with approval of the court. In addition, nothing in the revised Settlement allows the UWF to license competitors of Google, so the UWF remains simply an administrator of this settlement and not a means to effective competition.

V. Book rights registry should have additional obligations to find absent rightsholders to avoid conflicts among class members;

Although the revised Settlement adds language to the provisions on the Book Rights Registry that mentions efforts to locate absent rightsholders, the remaining opt-out language in the Settlement gives Google license without the consent of the rightsholder. Accordingly, nothing has changed to ensure proper consent is given by absent rightsholders. Google has failed on this point to address DOJ’s concerns.

VI. Settlement notice needs to be more robust if broad class is being used;

The notice program under the revised Settlement does not appear to be materially different from the first notice effort, which was the subject of substantial criticism by rightsholders. It appears that Google and their partners have failed to heed DOJ’s insistence that their prior notice was insufficient and therefore have failed in providing sufficient notice to the class on the revised Settlement.

VII. Settlement cannot allow horizontal pricing agreements by rightsholders;

The revised Settlement attempts, but fails, to alleviate this concern by the parties agreed to cede pricing decisions to Google to make “unilaterally” through a pricing algorithm that attempts to simulate competitive prices. The problem remains; however, as the Settlement itself is still a horizontal agreement to set prices. United States v. Socony-Vacuum Oil Co., 310 U.S. 150, 222 (1940) (“[P]rices are fixed . . . if the range within which purchases or sales will be made is agreed upon, if the prices paid or charged are to be at a certain level or ascending or descending scales, if they are to be uniform, or if by various formulae they are related to the market prices.” Further, it ignores the incentives that Google would have as a monopolist in setting prices, and creates no means of ensuring that pricing is actually “competitive.” It would be unusual indeed for the government to accept some self-imposed and self-regulated promises on pricing to substitute for actual competition.

VIII. Settlement cannot create de facto exclusive copyright license for Google;

The amended Settlement still grants Google a de facto exclusive license to an enormous corpus of books – namely, essentially every English language book published before 2009 for which the owner cannot or will not voluntarily license others (now called “unclaimed works”, a term which includes “orphan works”). There were no changes that would allow competitors access to “unclaimed works” in the corpus of scanned books. Google has failed to address a key concern of DOJ is failing to dispose of the de facto exclusive license.

IX. Settlement cannot rely on additional class action litigation to ensure competition;

The Settlement, as amended, would still require competitors to infringe, litigate, and hope to negotiate a comparable deal. Google has failed to address this key concern of DOJ, preventing any chance for competition.

PREVAILING THIRD PARTY OBJECTIONS

Over 400 third party briefs were filed on the Google Books Settlement, with 90% of them objecting to the deal. In addition to the comprehensive brief filed by the Department of Justice, many of the third parties had additional concerns with the Settlement.

I. Different rightsholder groups may need to be excluded/represented (e.g. academic authors, literary agent authors, photographers);

The amended Settlement was negotiated by the same narrow parties, did not include representatives of others’ interests, and did not create any additional subclasses despite the divergent interests that were highlighted in numerous objections to the Settlement.

II. Privacy concerns must be addressed;

Google and its partners made one minor tweak which did nothing to address the major privacy concerns expressed by the nation’s leading advocates on privacy issues.

III. Google’s commercialization of “Non-Display Uses” must be specifically disclosed and understood by class members;

No changes at all were made to Google’s license to broad “Non-Display Uses” in the amended Settlement, nor does it elaborate on what uses Google plans to make under that license. It also made no changes to the severe restrictions that Google has imposed on third parties who might wish to conduct research on the corpus.

Where are we today?

In short, the list of concerns with the GBS has only grown over the last year, and Google’s actions in the eBook market and elsewhere have done nothing to assuage the problems that have existed from the beginning.  As we look back over the last year, it is clearer than ever that the GBS is an agreement riddled with flaws in both process and content.  Once again, we urge Judge Chin to reject the GBS.

Fox in the Henhouse – Authors Guild to Testify on IP Rights

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing entitled “Targeting Websites Dedicated To Stealing American Intellectual Property.”  Some might see a little irony in this hearing considering that among the witnesses that will testify is Scott Turow of the Authors Guild – the very same organization that negotiated the Google Book Settlement which represents one of the largest intellectual property setbacks in recent memory.  As a letter from the National Writers Union, American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America to Congressional authors noted, “Mary Beth Peters, Register of Copyrights, testified before the House Judiciary Committee that the settlement [negotiated by the Authors Guild] would “turn copyright on its head.”

To be frank, the Authors Guild sold its member authors down the river.  As followers of the GBS are well aware, the Authors Guild’s negotiators (who, as NWU, ASJA, and SFFWA note “represent only a tiny fraction of published writers”) worked with Google to craft a settlement that locks authors into the Books Rights Registry – unless, of course, these authors find out about the settlement and navigate the GBS’ incomprehensible website.  In fact,  the process is so impenetrable that Google and the Authors Guild had to file for an extension last week to extend the deadline for an “up front” cash payment for unauthorized digitization of entire works.

In short, by partnering with Google in the GBS, the Authors Guild has damaged its credibility when it comes to speaking for rightsholders on intellectual property issues.  As the anniversary of the final Fairness Hearing comes around this week, the Google Book Settlement needlessly continues to tear the authors community apart at a time when essential issues like protecting the future of writing as a livelihood in the digital age is at stake.  The committee hearing would be an opportune moment for Mr. Turow to take advantage of this public forum to apologize for what the previous Authors Guild leadership did to authors with the Google Book Settlement.

Google Book Settlement: Serving Ads, Serving Google, Not Serving Privacy

Elisabeth A. Jones and Joseph W. Janes of The Information School at the University of Washington recently published an important academic paper about the privacy implications of Google Books entitled “Anonymity in a World of Digital Books: Google Books, Privacy, and the Freedom to Read” (registration required).

Jones and Janes note that the “the fundamental goal of the American public library has for more than a century been to support the freedom of inquiry, and thereby the freedom of expression, necessary to the functioning of a free society.”  That freedom of inquiry requires that library patrons, or Google Books users, are afforded a modicum of privacy to read that which they want to read, without fear of reprisal or exposure.

As the library world stands now, the American Library Association Code of Ethics places a very high value on patron privacy, and Jones and Janes quote from the relevant passage which states that librarians should “protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.”  They also note that many state laws prohibit the release of library data to unauthorized third parties, some even going so far as to specifically exempt library records from typically broad FOIA laws.

Google, on the other hand, takes a very dim view of the freedom of inquiry that is enshrined in the ALA’s code of ethics – at least if Google’s top executives are to be taken at their word:

Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf: “Nothing you do ever goes away, and nothing you do ever escapes notice. There isn’t any privacy, get over it.”

Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt: We know where you are, we know what you like.”

Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

Moreover, Google’s own policies reflect this view of readers’ privacy rights.  As the authors note, “[t]he Google Books privacy policy explicitly states that Google will collect several types of information. . . and reserves the company’s right to aggregate usage data from Google Books with other data linked to users’ Google Accounts—so your book purchase history or personalized reading lists may be combined with your usage data from Google Search, Gmail, Google Reader, Google Maps, Picasa, or any of the company’s myriad other services.”

As OBA followers know, we’ve long stated that Google’s monetization of readers’ information – not public interest – is the driving force behind this project, and we have long argued that there are critical privacy implications of Google Books as well.  The authors sum up many of our concerns very succinctly, so we’ll just let them speak for themselves:

By stripping away many of the traditional safeguards on reader privacy— whether legal, ethical, or situational—shifting free-of-charge, publicly available reading from libraries to Google Books complicates the capacity of the context to support truly unfettered inquiry and knowledge diffusion. For all the reasons already noted—controversial interests, the ability of reading material to reveal other things about the reader, or pure embarrassment—a lack of privacy with regard to the selection of reading materials can significantly chill individuals’ desire and/or ability to explore as broadly as they might wish.

Sarnoff Leaves Bertelsmann – No GBS Negotiators Left

The Wall Street Journal reports that Richard Sarnoff, former head of Random House/Bertelsmann and the lead negotiator of the Google Books Settlement for the American Association of Publishers, is leaving his post.  As Authors Guild’s Roy Blount has departed, Google’s Alex Macgillivray is now with Twitter and Dan Clancy is now working on YouTube, all of the negotiators of the GBS on both sides have moved on from their former positions.

So now, each of the key players in the GBS negotiations are gone, and in the event that the GBS is approved, there will be no one with firsthand knowledge of the incredibly complex issues at stake around to implement it.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the legal prospects of the proposed settlement – or its promise as a rights registry.

This development comes as we fast approach a critical deadline for authors whose material was appropriated by Google’s book scanners without their permission.  While the negotiators may be gone, these authors (who are the real key players in this entire issue) will lose their right to claim a cash payment from Google for its unauthorized digitization of their work on March 31st if they do not submit a claim.

The negotiators might have moved on to other things, but we are certain that many of these authors, who may or may not know about this rapidly approaching deadline, have not.

Google Takes Another Step Towards Monetizing Exclusive Content

Google has just taken another step towards monetizing its 15-million-strong trove of scanned books that it obtained exclusive access to through the proposed Google Book Settlement by acquiring eBook Technologies.  Despite the fact that eBook’s homepage has been largely stripped of any useful information about its products, TechCrunch took a spin through the Google Cache and reports that “eBook Technologies, Inc. (‘ETI’) platform consists of four parts: electronic reading devices (eBook devices) plus their associated UI firmware technology, the ‘Online Bookshelf’, an Internet-based content sales and delivery system (the eBookstore), and eBook content conversion / publication tools.”  A Google spokesperson confirmed the acquisition to TechCrunch, stating that “together, we hope to deliver richer reading experiences on tablets, electronic readers and other portable devices.”

This is just one more sign that Google, despite rhetoric about cultural heritage, plans to use the Google Book Settlement as another profit driver.  PC Magazine reminds readers of the controversy surrounding the settlement, as well the breadth and depth of opposition.  The GBS would give Google exclusive content that it can use to enhance its already dominant search engine, that it can monetize via its dominant search advertising arm by using the content to respond to search queries by displaying snippets and, of course, monetizing this exclusive content through its ebook store.

So much for “open” – more like “open . . . for business.”

EC Digitization Report: Stronger Rules for Google Books

The European Commission released a report today on Europeana, the E.U.’s digital library project, that made a number of recommendations designed to strengthen and grow the project with an eye towards creating a single public portal through which users could access Europe’s cultural heritage in a digital format.  Specifically, the report called for a more than 50% reduction in the duration of the exclusivity deals that Google signs with libraries, from 15 years to 7 years.  Among other recommendations, the report states that members states must considerably increase funding for digitization in order to make the Europeana portal the “central reference point for Europe’s online cultural heritage, that rules for “orphan works” must be finalized quickly, and that “cultural institutions must have a window of opportunity to digitize material and make it available to the public” with renumeration for rights holders.

The report, delivered today to Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda, and authored by an outside panel of experts is a strong statement of support for the non-profit, public interest solution to the digitization of books.  As one of the authors of the report, CEO of the advertising company Publicis Group Maurice Levy, noted, “we want to give the widest access to the widest audience on a free basis.  Europeana is not based on a business model of profitability.”  The release goes on to note that while public-private partnerships are desirable, they must be transparent, non-exclusive and equitable for all partners, and must result in cross-border access to the digitised material for all.

In the same vein, The New York Times ran a story over the weekend noting that the United States trails its European counterparts in that the U.S. has failed thus far to develop a national digitization strategy.  As a result, America’s book digitization policy has been hijacked by the parties to the proposed Google Book Settlement, which was negotiated behind closed doors through a private settlement designed by (and for the benefit of) for-profit interests, most notably the world’s dominant search engine Google.  As Professor Robert Darnton of Harvard University, who is leading an effort to create a national digital public library, noted in the Times piece, there is a fundamental disconnect between the goals of that corporation and the public interest that non-profit libraries serve: “‘There’s a conflict between the raison d’être of Google, which is to make money for its shareholders,’ he says, ‘and libraries whose goal is to make books available to readers.’”

These developments should serve as a call to action for U.S. policymakers to take the lead in maintaining the public-interest spirit that has animated America libraries for three centuries.  As we have long maintained, in order to fulfill the enormous promise that book digitization holds, the process must follow these principles:

-          Large scale book digitization efforts must recognize their public utility and foster competitive instead of exclusive markets.

-          Long-term benefits for consumers must be prioritized and promoted over isolated commercial interests.

-          It must be done in a way that respects authors’ rights and copyright

-          The conception of this promise must be developed in the open and grounded in sound public policy instead of through a private settlement that bypasses the responsibilities of our elected officials.

At OBA, we believe that a comprehensive digital public library will unlock our collective cultural knowledge for a larger audience than ever before possible.  And we believe equally as strongly that the court must reject the proposed Google Book Settlement that would grant Google a de facto monopoly over the digital scans of millions of books.  The vision of a national digital public library must be realized to serve the public interest, not private profits.

Monetizing The World’s Information

The Financial Times wrote today on the ambitions of Google Book search and the dangers that the GBS poses.  As the piece notes, and we have long argued,  approving the Google Book Settlement and handing Google a monopoly would “make it a dangerous threat to competitors.”  While Google likes to talk about their voracious scanning (15 million books at last count) in the frame of its stated corporate mission (“to organize the world’s information”), the fact of the matter is that, in practice, Google is monetizing the world’s information.

Google loves to tout its digital smorgasbord of products and services, but doesn’t like to talk about the fact that 98% of its astounding revenues come from advertising, and more specifically, directed advertising targeted at Google users based on information that Google collects about them.  In reality, Google users aren’t the “customers” – Google’s users are the “product” that Google sells to advertisers.  Google Books is no exception.  The Financial Times writes, “imagine much cheaper e-books that contain real-time embedded ads – flights to Sweden in the margins of a Stieg Larsson book, for example,” and that Google will “be able to sell all the in-copyright but out-of-print books it has scanned too, and subscriptions for the whole shebang to libraries and universities.”

On a separate, but related, matter, The New York Times editorialized on Google’s proposed acquisition of ITA Software (a leading provider of air travel search software), arguing that “Google cannot abuse its dominance in search to shut out the competition.”  These concerns are equally applicable to the GBS – a Google monopoly, whether over books or over travel, and whether acquired by an abuse of the class action process or by purchasing another company, is bad for competition and bad for consumers.

Everybody But Google Knows it’s a Monopoly

Over the last week, Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post and Google have been engaged in a back and forth over Google’s monopolistic behavior.  Of course, Google claims that it is not a monopoly (notwithstanding the fact that the French, among others, disagree).   But as Pearlstein accurately notes, Google isn’t just a search engine any more: “In addition to online advertising, it’s moving into operating system and application software, mobile telephone software, e-mail, Web browsers, maps, and video aggregation. It’s also in the process of assembling the world’s biggest digital library of books and visual materials” and in his reply to Google’s post, concludes that “Google’s aggressive acquisition strategy, combined with its dominance, makes [open competition] unlikely. The tipping point has now been reached.”

The online community is just now beginning to realize what opponents of the Google Books Settlement have known for some time: Google has a long history of leveraging its position as the world’s dominant search engine to move into new markets in a way that is detrimental to the spirit of free and fair competition.

Google likes to assert that when it moves into new markets, such as digitization of books, it does so on behalf of consumers – but as followers of the GBS are well aware, Google’s motives are not as pure as it would have you believe.  Fundamentally, as we pointed out last week, what Google is trying to do is in reality a “commercial venture that aims to monetize millions of out-of-print books….”  And the Wall Street Journal writes this week that the monetization of “Google’s controversial trove of digital books” has already begun.

The GBS, if approved, would give Google monopoly control over an exclusive trove of digital content from their unauthorized scanning exploits.  As we have always said, the GBS is abusing the class action process to approve a deal negotiated in secret for years to serve private, not public, interests.  In contrast, the Library Journal reported this week that there is a new effort underway to bring disparate stakeholders together in an open and collaborative process to find common-ground solutions to digitization issues.  As one of the leaders of the effort said, “the idea is to create a big tent where lots of people can work hard toward a public-spirited solution . . . . It’s not a competitive effort. It’s meant to be complementary to its core.”

Digitizing the world’s books is an admirable goal and is one that we share.  But it is essential that the process is open and maximizes benefits to citizens, scholars and students – not the commercial interests of a single company.

Learn more…

Connect and Follow

Mission

The mass digitization of books promises to bring tremendous value to consumers, libraries, scholars, and students. The Open Book Alliance will work to advance and protect this promise. And, by...

More

What Experts Are Saying About the Settlement…

Important Dates

December 14, 2009
Notice begins

January 28, 2010
Deadline for authors to opt out of the settlement

January 28, 2010
Deadline to file objections and/or amicus briefs

February 4, 2010
Deadline to file notice of intent to appear at Fairness Hearing

February 4, 2010
DOJ response

February 11, 2010
Plaintiffs move for final approval

February 18, 2010
Final Fairness Hearing

March 31, 2011
Deadline to claim Books and Inserts

Archives