Judge, group say legislation needed to fix Google issue

John O'Brien Mar. 24, 2011, 12:00pm


NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) - A federal judge has rejected a proposed class action settlement, saying it would allow Google to "exploit entire books without permission of the copyright owners."

The Authors Guild sued Google in New York federal court, and on Tuesday Judge Denny Chin rejected a $125 million settlement that would have allowed Google to scan and sell millions of books for a digital library.

Chin admitted that there are many positive aspects to Google's plan but ultimately couldn't get on board with the settlement. It was approved in 2008 by U.S. District Judge John Sprizzo.

Approximately 500 objections followed, including some by the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington. Chin wrote that Congress should get involved by establishing a "mechanism for exploiting unclaimed books."

"The questions of who should be entrusted with guardianship over orphan books, under what terms, and with what safeguards are matters more appropriately decided by Congress than through an agreement among private, self-interested parties," Chin wrote.

"Indeed, the Supreme Court has held that 'it is generally for
Congress, not the courts, to decide how best to pursue the Copyright Clause's objectives.'"

Chin noted that orphan works legislation was proposed in Congress in 2006 and 2008 but neither was enacted. Approving the settlement, Chin said, would give Google a "de factor monopoly."

The Competitive Enterprise Institute -- a public interest group that studies regulation, risk and markets - agreed with Chin..

"Both chambers of Congress are currently working hard to tackle patent reform and rogue websites," said Ryan Radia, CEI's associate director of technology studies. "Judge Chin's ruling today should serve as a wake-up call that orphan works legislation should also be a top priority for lawmakers.

"Today, millions of expressive works cannot be enjoyed by the general public because their copyright owners cannot be found. This amounts to a massive black hole in copyright, severely undermining the public interest."

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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