The company’s plan to digitize every book ever published and make them widely available was derailed on Tuesday when a federal judge in New York rejected a sweeping $125 million legal settlement the company had worked out with groups representing authors and publishers.
The decision throws into legal limbo one of the most ambitious undertakings in Google’s history, and it brings into sharp focus concerns about the company’s growing power over information. While the profit potential of the book project is not clear, the effort is one of the pet projects of Larry Page, the Google co-founder who is set to become its chief executive next month. And the project has wide support inside the company, whose corporate mission is to organize all of the world’s information.
Fortunately, wide opposition outside of the company helped persuade Judge Denny Chin that the proposed settlement was not in the public interest. A broad coalition, including librarians, college professors, The Justice Department, Amazon.com, Microsoft, and Consumer Watchdog all opposed the settlement.
“Google’s entire business model is to never ask permission, but to seek forgiveness if necessary,” said John M. Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project. “Judge Chin has ruled simply that you can’t take other people’s property and use it without asking. This should send the message to the engineers at the Googleplex that the next time they want to use someone’s intellectual property, they need to ask permission.”
Simpson noted that Judge Chin also found the deal raised antitrust problems. Consumer Watchdog was among the first to oppose the agreement on those grounds and urged the U.S. Justice Department to intervene. Justice argued against the deal.
The Monster of Mountain View likes to claim that it is just trying to expand access to knowledge. In reality, it’s trying to gain control over created works and use them to make money. Thank goodness this most recent attempt by Google to extend its monopoly position has been thwarted.