Google defended its pending settlement with authors and book publishers on Thursday during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee. The search giant said the deal is important to American culture and literary history for people to be able to find and read copyrighted books that are out of print, and for rights holders to be able to market and sell them.
Google also said the settlement, which must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, would not have a negative impact on the $25 billion retail book market because most of the titles the agreement covers are no longer in publication and generate low commercial demand.
"It's the newest titles and books yet to be written that will drive competition and commerce for digital books, not out-of-print books held in libraries," explained Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond. "So don't let anyone fool you that the future of books depends on what happens with the settlement of a lawsuit over out-of-print library books."
Of the 10 million books that Google has scanned to date, the search giant estimates that at least two million are clearly in the public domain and not part of the lawsuit. That is equivalent to less than three percent of the commercial book market.
"These include books published before 1923. For these books, when a user enters a relevant query, we display the entire text," Drummond said. "Users can freely download the book in multiple formats."
Drummond said making public-domain texts discoverable online is already advancing education and scholarly pursuits. However, as anyone who has used Google Books to search for works published before 1923 can testify, Drummond is clearly overstating what the online service actually delivers.
Though some of the titles published before 1923 are indeed provided for download, the vast majority of the Google Books listings for these out-of-print works consists of short snippets of text centered on the search term. Google didn't immediately respond to a request to clarify its access policies for works published before 1923. However, Drummond admitted Google's "snippet view is not particularly useful to our users."
As part of the proposed settlement, Google said it intends to partner with bookstores, publishers and device manufacturers to develop an open platform that would enable readers to find and purchase digital books from any bookstore and read them on any device. Smaller, independent bookstores "will benefit from an open platform that helps them stay relevant as book consumption moves online," Drummond said.
Amazon, Microsoft and a number of other organizations argue that Google's settlement would create a monopoly in digital books. Moreover, Microsoft's attorneys charge that the proposal amounts to an "illegal joint venture" and "is unrelated to the narrow legal dispute before the court and, if approved, would constitute an unprecedented misuse of the judicial system."
However, Google believes it may be the development of an open platform for online book distribution that underlies corporate opposition to the agreement. "We didn't settle the lawsuit thinking it would catapult us to be the next Amazon," Drummond said. "Rather, opening up access to these books helps fulfill our founders‟ vision for our digitization efforts."
Google also argues that the settlement is structured to make it easier for anyone -- including Google's competitors -- to clear rights and license out-of-print books. "Nothing in it makes it any more difficult for others to license these books," Drummond said.