But a former policy director for the Federal Trade Commission lashed out at the Justice Department and predicted Chin would approve the settlement.
“The DOJ’s view is clouded by taking a microscopic and static view of an incredibly dynamic marketplace,” said David Balto, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a think tank.
The government’s antitrust concerns extend beyond the settlement’s potential for driving up book prices. Its Feb. 4 filing also noted that the deal could make Google’s search engine even more dominant by giving it a digital database of books built up largely by ignoring copyright laws.
“Content that can be discovered by only one search engine offers that search engine some protection from competition,” the DOJ wrote. “This outcome has not been achieved by a technological advance in search or by operation of normal market forces; rather, it is the direct product of scanning millions of books without the copyright holders’ consent.”
Google already processes about two-thirds of the search requests in the United States, an advantage that led the company to rake in $79 billion in revenue during the past five years—mostly from short ads posted alongside search results and other web content.
That success has emboldened Google to make digital copies of more than 12 million books during the past five years, mostly from university libraries. Google has shown only snippets from most of these works while trying to revolve a class-action lawsuit filed in 2005 by groups representing U.S. authors and publishers. The suit alleged Google’s book-scanning project trampled their intellectual rights.
A $125 million truce reached in October 2008 has remained in a holding pattern while Google tried to notify the affected parties and overcome staunch resistance to the deal. Some of the most strident opponents have been Google rivals, including Microsoft Corp., Amazon.com Inc., and Yahoo Inc.
The agreement also has prominent supporters, including several campus libraries, publishing groups, and Sony Corp., which wants to tap into Google’s digital book index to feed its own electronic reader, which is competing against Amazon’s Kindle.
Tweaks made to the settlement in November were supposed to end the bickering.
Among other things, the revisions provide more flexibility to offer discounts on electronic books and promise to make it easier for others to resell access to the electronic library.
The changes also narrowed the settlement’s scope so it would only apply to books registered with the U.S. copyright office or published in Canada, the United Kingdom, or Australia.
Nevertheless, the French and German governments still maintain the deal will infringe on the rights of writers in their countries. And groups representing authors in Japan, New Zealand, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy remain opposed.
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