In late 2004, Google announced plans to digitize a number of the world's major library collections and make them available on-line. Almost immediately, there were questions raised about whether this effort would violate copyright law as well as stretch beyond recognition the principle of fair use.
In 2005, the Authors Guild brought a class action lawsuit against Google for copyright infringement, which Google vigorously denied. There is a Washington Post article from 2006 that nicely sums up the opposing positions taken here.
That was not the end of the story. Others such as The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), the US Department of Justice (see PDF here), Amazon, Microsoft Corp., Yahoo as well as the French and German governments among others, objected to the deal, saying that it was fundamentally flawed because it would still violate author copyrights, give Google too much control over the digitalization of books, and greatly enhance the power of its search engine.
So, back to the courts.
Yesterday, US Federal Judge Denny Chin of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York threw out the aforementioned settlement saying that the agreement would give Google a "de facto monopoly," reports this article in the New York Times.
The Times story goes on to say that:
"Judge Chin acknowledged that 'the creation of a universal digital library would benefit many,' but said that the proposed agreement was 'not fair, adequate and reasonable.' "
However, the story says, Judge Chin ".. left open the possibility that a substantially revised agreement could pass legal muster."
The US DOJ was quoted by the Times as saying that the judge's ruling came to the "right result."
So now it is back to the drawing board, although many of those who fought the settlement have indicated that a more narrowly drawn agreement on how copyrighted material could be used and compensated for might be acceptable, the Times says.
It will likely take months before all the points raised by Judge Chin (read his entire ruling here in PDF) are sorted out, however.
So far, Google has digitized some 15 million books, with those with expired copyrights available with their entire texts at Google's Book Search web site.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.