Blown To Bits

The Audacity of the Google Books Settlement

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009 by Harry Lewis

That is thee title of a superb column by Pamela Samuelson explaining some (but only some) of the worries about the proposed settlement of copyright infringement claims against Google for scanning copyrighted works. She explains the perverse incentives to both parties to this litigation. In a word, each realized that they could become literary monopolists if they played their cards right with each other.

That is exactly the reason why the federal judiciary gets involved in settlements that private parties have negotiated with each other in class action cases. There is too much risk that the parties will find a way to divide the pie between themselves in a way that does not serve the public well.

And, of course, the public would gain much from the settlement. Advocates for the disabled are urging the judge to approve it because it would expand access to works that can be mechanically vocalized. And so it would, at a huge cost o competition, openness, privacy, and various other pitfalls.

It may not matter, if the Department of Justice decides the settlement has serious anti-trust implications, as it certainly seems to. (You can read the DOJ’s curt letter to Google at that site, thanks to DocStoc.)

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