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Justice Dept to take long hard look at Google Book deal

Monopoly and orphan fears

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Google is facing an investigation by the US Justice Department, after signing a controversial deal with the Author's Guild, which will see it censoring books included in its digital archive in the same way it censors videos on YouTube.

The details of the agreement reached with publishers gives Google monoploy rights on publishing books included in the deal - so if Google decides to delete a title it will effectively disappear.

If Google labels a book "inappropriate", no one else can publish it online without risking being sued. There's no indication what Google might dee an "inappropriate" book. Perhaps they'll turn to the Vatican for guidance, the Catholic Church having some experience in these matters.

The US Department of Justice is also looking at the deal, reached with the Author's Guild last October. Under the agreement Google pledged to establish a Books Right Registry - US copyright holders can get onto the register and get a cut of 63 per cent of Google's earnings from their work, or can ask for their work to be removed. If they don't receive an opt-out request, Google has the right to scan and offer for sale digital copies of books.

DoJ interest does not automatically scupper the deal, which still needs court approval to go ahead. The deadline for objections to the court was to be 5 May - that's now been extended to 4 September.

Justice Department lawyers have talked to opponents of the deal and are considering the anti-trust implications, according to anonymous sources. There has not yet been any official confirmation from the DoJ.

The deal also controversially gives Google rights over "orphan works" - books written by people who cannot be traced.

There's an interesting interview with the New York Law School's Professor James Grimmelmann here. ®

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