New York Court Rejects Google Book Deal

March 23, 2011

Judgment was handed down on 22 March in the US case of Authors Guild v Google Inc. The judgment can be read in full here (a scanned version in pdf).

The case sought court approval for the settlement of a class action on the terms set out in the Amended Settlement Agreement (the ASA). Judge Chin had to decide whether the ASA was ‘fair, adequate, and reasonable’. He took the view that it was not.

He states that ‘while the digitization of books and the creation of a universal digital library would benefit many, the ASA would simply go too far’. The plan for the scanning of books and display of snippets for on-line searching is described by the judge as a forward-looking business arrangement. But he was not persuaded that the deal, which ‘would grant Google significant rights to exploit entire books, without permission of the copyright owners’ was fair:

‘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’. 

The rejection of the proposed deal, which raised considerable concerns among non-US authors and other rights holders, raises a very wide range of issues and its implications will be felt throughout the world. But Judge Chin gave a very heavy hint about the likely direction of developments when he said ‘many of the concerns raised in the objections would be ameliorated if the ASA were converted from an “opt-out” settlement to an “opt-in” settlement’. 

The judgment from Judge Denny Chin is highly readable and, given the complexity of the issues, refreshingly short.

The judgment provoked predictably varying reactions. Google’s managing counsel Hilary Ware said: ‘This is clearly disappointing, but we’ll review the Court’s decision and consider our options. Like many others, we believe this agreement has the potential to open-up access to millions of books that are currently hard to find in the US today. Regardless of the outcome, we’ll continue to work to make more of the world’s books discoverable online through Google Books and Google eBooks.’ The US-based Open Book Alliance described it as ‘a victory for the public interest and for competition in the literary and Internet ecosystems’ and their counsel Gary Reback, stated:

‘The ruling ratifies the objections of a diverse cross-section of voices who stood up to Google and its partners – from the Justice Department and State Attorneys General to authors and independent publishers to consumer and privacy advocates and members of the academic and library communities. We urge the Justice Department to remain vigilant and continue in its role as a leader in protecting consumers and competition from an entrenched monopoly in online search.’ 

(If a reader becomes aware of a better quality version of the judgment, do let me know at