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US Register of Copyrights on GBS

Marybeth Peters, the US Register of Copyrights, testified before the House Judiciary Committee today regarding the Copyright Office's view of the Google Book Settlement. I've read her testimony - it's a good summary of the problems with the settlement.

Some excerpts:

When the parties announced last fall that they had reached a settlement in what was becoming a long and protracted litigation, our initial reaction was that this was a positive development.  But as we met with the parties, conversed with lawyers, scholars
and other experts, and began to absorb the many terms and conditions of the settlement—a process that took several months due to the length and complexity of the documents— we grew increasingly concerned.  We realized that the settlement was not really a
settlement at all, in as much as settlements resolve acts that have happened in the past and were at issue in the underlying infringement suits.  Instead, the so-called settlement would create mechanisms by which Google could continue to scan with impunity, well into the future, and to our great surprise, create yet additional commercial products without the prior consent of rights holders. For example, the settlement allows Google to reproduce, display and distribute the books of copyright owners without prior consent,
provided Google and the plaintiffs deem the works to be “out-of-print” through a definition negotiated by them for purposes of the settlement documents.  Although Google is a commercial entity, acting for a primary purpose of commercial gain, the
settlement absolves Google of the need to search for the rights holders or obtain their prior consent and provides a complete release from liability.  In contrast to the scanning and snippets originally at issue, none of these new acts could be reasonably alleged to be
fair use.


She goes on to compare Google's scanning to services provided by cable companies and the like - "compulsory licenses":

At very least, a compulsory license for the systematic scanning of books on a mass scale is an interesting proposition that might merit Congressional consideration.  As stated above, various compulsory licenses have been carefully crafted over the years after extensive deliberation and consideration of the viewpoints of all affected stakeholders, though none apply to books or text.  Among the issues Congress would want to consider are the pros and cons of allowing copyright users, rather than copyright owners, to initiate the digitization of copyrighted works; the rate of compensation that should be paid to copyright owners; and whether the same license terms should apply to mass digitization activities undertaken for the public interest by non profit organizations such as libraries, and for profit purposes by commercial actors.  Congress also would want to consider whether all books merit the same attention, or whether differences can be drawn from the date of publication, the type of publication, or such facts as whether the rights holder is likely to be alive or deceased. 

Here, she explains that "out of print" is not the same as "out of copyright":

The activities that prompted the plaintiffs to file suit against Google – the wholesale scanning of  books, electronic indexing and snippet display – are activities as to which reasonable minds might differ when considering whether such activities are acts of infringement or are, for example, fair use.  However, the same cannot be said of the new uses that the settlement agreement permits Google to make of out-of-print works.  We do not believe that even Google has asserted that, in the absence of this class action settlement, it would be fair use to undertake the new activities that Google would enjoy risk-free as a result of the settlement.  In essence, the proposed settlement would give Google a license to infringe first and ask questions later, under the imprimatur of the court. 

Also, "orphan works" are not the same as "out of print":

As a side note, the Copyright Office would like to underscore for the Committee that out-of-print works and orphan works are not coextensive.  Orphan works are works that are protected by copyright but for which a potential user cannot identify or locate the copyright owner for the purpose of securing permission.  They do not include works that are in the public domain; works for which a copyright owner is findable but refuses permission; or works for which no permission is necessary, i.e. the use is within the parameters of an exception or limitation such as fair use.  Many out-of-print works have rights holders who are both identifiable and locatable through a search.  In fact, the U.S. works covered by the proposed settlement would all be searchable, at a minimum, through Copyright Office records because the settlement includes U.S. works only if they are registered. 

Problems the BRR cannot solve:

The Office also notes that while the BRR might well provide a place for rights owners to come forward with contact information, it is also likely to have the unfortunate effect of creating a false database of orphan works, because in practice any work that is not claimed will be deemed an orphan.  Many rights holders of out-of-print books may fail or refuse to register with the BRR for very good reasons, whether due to lack of notice, disagreement with the Registry’s mission or operations, fear (e.g. privacy concerns) or confusion.  The fact that the rights holder is missing from the BRR may also mean that he has no interest in licensing his work.

And...the French (and everybody else outside the US):

We are troubled by the fact that the proposed settlement implicates so many foreign works even when they have not taken steps to enter the United States market.  While it would be appropriate to allow foreign nationals to participate voluntarily in licensing programs that may be developed by the BRR or other collectives, they should not be automatically included in the terms of the settlement.  Moreover, we are aware that some foreign governments have noted the possible impact of the proposed settlement on the exclusive rights of their citizens.  Indeed, many foreign works have been digitized by Google and swept into the settlement because one copy was in an academic research library in the United States.  As a matter of policy, foreign rights holders should not be swept into a class action settlement unknowingly, and they should retain exclusive control of their U.S. markets.  

Read it!


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