Google Books Settlement Denied, Judge Reinforces U.S. Copyright Protection Laws

For the first time in history, every high-school stereotype—teachers, parents, cheerleaders, football players, Trekkies, and bookworms—all want the same thing: the iPad 2. On March 11, lines of eager and diverse consumers waited the release of the new generation iPad. Though Apple has yet to release U.S. sales figures for the device, it’s easy to imagine that the number is impressive. Last year, 300,000 first generation iPads were sold the first day alone, and 500,000 thousand over the course of a week. Before salaried Apple employees could even collect their monthly paycheck, the company had sold one million units.

This Friday, Apple will release the iPad 2 across Europe, to Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, France, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom.[1] Clearly, portable audio and reading devices, and mass worldwide demand for them, have opened a new chapter in the market for books and magazines. The potential impact on the publishing industry is undeniable. However, writers and publishers can sleep soundly for awhile longer. Revenue for e-books still constitutes less than one percent of the print equivalents. And, legal protection for copyrights, as of Tuesday, continues to be strictly enforced by American courts.

According to a report from Publisher’s Weekly, hardback and softback sales were projected to be roughly $9.5 billion in 2009, audiobooks $218 million, and e-books a mere $81 million. But, the second quarter of 2010 showed a marked increase in e-book sales. Amazon reported sales of 143 e-books for every 100 hardcover books sold. Since then, each month, these numbers have been steadily increasing, which makes the debate over copyright protection for online texts of accelerated importance.[2]

For six years, Google Books has been battling the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers for rights to digitally and freely reprint portions of books. In 2008, the parties reached a settlement. However, yesterday, in a 48-page decision, Judge Denny Chin concluded the $125 million settlement would give Google an unlawful exploitative power over copyright owners, and denied the deal. This decision was reached in U.S. district court in Manhattan, but confirmed similar concerns as expressed by the U.S. Justice Department. Judge Chin’s decision read:

While the digitization of books and the creation of a universal digital library would benefit many, the ASA would simply go too far. It would permit this class action—which was brought against defendant Google Inc. to challenge its scanning of books and display of “snippets” for on-line searching—to implement a forward-looking business arrangement that would grant Google significant rights to exploit entire books, without permission of the copyright owners. Indeed, the ASA would give Google a significant advantage over competitors, rewarding it for engaging in wholesale copying of copyrighted works without permission, while releasing claims well beyond those presented in the case.

John Sargent, Chief Executive of Macmillan, stated on behalf of the Association of American Publishers on behalf of the publisher plaintiffs: 

We plan to work together with Google, the Authors Guild and others to overcome the objections raised by the Court and promote the fundamental principle behind our lawsuit, that copyrighted content cannot be used without the permission of the owner, or outside the law.

What a relief to the many millions of iPad users around the world, and the 54 percent of them who have already downloaded an e-book app.[3] So Europe, get back in the queue for that iPad 2.

Read more about the settlement and Judge Chin’s decision here.  

[1] http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/23/us-apple-ipad-idUSTRE72M3AW20110323

[2] Tweney, Dylan F. “Amazon Sells More E-Books Than Hardcovers.” Wired. Conde Nast Digital, 19 July 2010. Web.23 Oct. 2010. http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2010/07/amazon-more-e-books-than-hardcovers/

[3] http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2010/10/nielsen-revises-ipad-app-stats/

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