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Google acts to quell critics of book deal

Too little, too late?

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Google has written a letter to 16 European Union publishers in an effort to allay some of their concerns about Mountain View’s digital books settlement in the US.

According to today’s Financial Times, Google has agreed to have two non-US reps on the governing board of the registry that will oversee the settlement.

Additionally, the web kingpin said it plans to consult European publishers before digitising and cataloguing some European works in its library.

Last week the German government declared its opposition to Google's landmark October 2008 book settlement, claiming it would “irrevocably alter the landscape of international copyright law”.

It said the deal “runs afoul of the applicable German national laws, as well as European public initiatives to create non-commercial worldwide digital libraries”.

Microsoft, Yahoo! and Amazon have also made plenty of noises about the court settlement, which arose after Google was sued by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers in 2005.

Eventually the two sides reached a deal after Google agreed that the publisher groups would have the final say on whether their members' copyrighted works may be used in Google’s Book Rights Registry. It also agreed to pay $125m to resolve any outstanding claims.

But for many publishers and authors, such an agreement is simply too much to swallow. Some have argued that the deal took place behind closed doors without proper consultation, while others see it as irrevocably undermining copyright law.

Meanwhile, the European Commission is today considering the Google Books deal.

Open Rights Group’s executive director Jim Killock said at the hearing this morning that the discussion shouldn’t focus simply on “a compromise between two commercial interests”.

He called on EU officials to consider the best methods of delivering literature and other cultural works to the 27-member bloc’s citizens.

"European literature may shortly be more widely available in the US than in Europe," said Killock. "This would be ironic, regrettable and damaging to European cultures. It is also unnecessary.

"We think we must now accept that there is something very wrong with EU copyright law. The incontrovertible evidence is that it needs substantial reform every time an innovative service using copyright works comes along.”

He claimed that current copyright law was out of step with the digital world, saying: "We need a limitation to copyright to allow the search and indexing of copyright content.” ®

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