Thursday, February 25, 2010

Google in trouble?

At 19th February Google was facing its opponents in a New York court over long-delayed plans to create the world's largest online library, under the name Google Books. The fairness hearing has been set up to listen to arguments for and against a controversial deal -- the Google Book Search Copyright Class Action Settlement -- between Google and US authors and publishers. US Dictrict Judge Chin has read more than 500 submissions related to the $125m (£77m) settlement that would set up a book rights registry to pay authors and publishers compensation in return for their work being scanned and digitised. At the start of proceedings in New York, Judge Chin said "to end the suspense, I'm not going to rule today. There is just too much to digest. I have an open mind." Besides, an additional 6,500 claims are in progress.

Google informs on their website of the proposed Settlement of a class action lawsuit brought by authors and publishers, claiming that Google has violated their copyrights and those of other Rightsholders of Books and Inserts (click for definitions), by scanning their Books, creating an electronic database and displaying short excerpts without the permission of the copyright holders. Google denies the claims.

However, critics say the pact would hand the search giant a monopoly over online books sales.

Google's original plan to digitise millions of books worldwide first ran into trouble in 2004 when the Authors Guild of America and the Association of American Publishers sued over "massive copyright infringement".

December last year, a Paris court found Google guilty of infringement for exposing fragments of the scanned books online. Google doesn't allow users to actually access or view the entire books, rather it enables them to search the contents and displays short excerpts of the portion of the text containing the query. Still, the French publisher demanded that it be paid for the content and, in the original claim La Martiniere, the French Publishers' Association and authors' group SGDL, the parties who filed the lawsuit, asked for damages of €15 million for the crime. The judge found in the plaintiff's favor, but the damages issued fell way short of the demands: a €300,000 fine. However, on top of the initial fine, Google will also have to pay an additional €10,000 for every day it stores the scanned books from now on.

Google is facing a preliminary anti-monopoly probe by the European Commission into its dominant position in online browsing and digital advertising. Google revealed at Wednesday that the commission has sent out formal questionnaires seeking information about complaints from three firms – the British price comparison site Foundem, a French legal search engine called eJustice and a shopping site, Ciao, which is owned by Microsoft.

In the process of creating a worldwide library, Google Books, the library access might turn out less global than many are hoping for. Users could see their access to digitalised books limited by their geographical location. Geographic limitations on user access would allow Google to pay heed to copyright issues that can vary from country to country. The technology may also be used to control access to certain books that are illegal in specific countries.


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