Google rebuts DOJ objections to digital book deal

Google is taking on the DOJ in defending its book-scanning settlement.
Google is taking on the DOJ in defending its book-scanning settlement.

Google Inc. wants the digital rights to millions of books badly enough that it’s willing to take on the U.S. Department of Justice in a court battle over whether the internet search leader’s book-scanning ambitions would break antitrust and copyright laws—a battle with important implications for students, teachers, scholars, and researchers.

The stage for the showdown was set Feb. 11 with a Google court filing that defended the $125 million settlement of a class-action lawsuit the company reached with U.S. authors and publishers more than 14 months ago.

Google’s 67-page filing includes a rebuttal to the Justice Department’s belief that the settlement would thwart competition in the book market and undermine copyright law. The brief also tries to overcome a chorus of criticism from several of its rivals, watchdog groups, state governments, and even some foreign governments.

Google revised its original book agreement in November in an attempt to win the Justice Department’s support, only to have the nation’s top law enforcement agency reiterate its opposition last week.

This time, though, Google decided to dig in its heels and attempt to persuade U.S. District Judge Denny Chin that the Justice Department and the settlement’s other opponents are wrong. Oral arguments are scheduled for Feb. 18 in a New York court hearing.

“The purpose of copyright law is to promote the creation and distribution of expressive works,” Google’s lawyers wrote in the company’s Feb. 11 filing. “The [settlement] advances this purpose as much as any case or agreement in copyright history.”

The decision to fight the Justice Department rather than seek another compromise represents a calculated risk for Google. The company’s domination of internet search and its expansion into other markets have already been drawing more regulatory scrutiny.

Locking horns with the Justice Department raises the specter of antitrust regulators magnifying their focus on Google’s search engine, which fuels an online advertising system that generates virtually all the company’s revenue.

Efforts to reach the Justice Department before press time were unsuccessful. Most federal government offices in Washington, D.C., have been closed this week because of snow storms.

In its opinion filed last week, the Justice Department described the settlement as “a bridge too far.” The agency also applauded the settlement for trying to make hard-to-find books more accessible, but said more revisions had to be made to comply with the law.

The Justice Department’s concerns include the possibility of Google gaining an unfair advantage over its smaller internet search rivals if it wins the right to a digital database of books that it built up by ignoring copyright laws.

"(Required)" indicates required fields