On Thursday, September 16, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts and Competition Policy will explore growing concerns about anti-competitive and monopolistic practices taking place online. The Open Book Alliance applauds the action and urges the subcommittee to use the hearing to continue their examination of the threat to online competition presented by the proposed Google Book Settlement and its role in usurping the rights of authors, academic researchers, libraries, independent publishers, and others.
The hearing, titled "Competition in the Evolving Digital Marketplace," is an opportunity for members to make inquiries on the anti-trust implications of the proposed settlement. This is not the first time the committee has explored the Google Book Settlement or heard concerns from regulators and consumer advocates about anti-competitive practices from Google.
"The committee is right to consider these issues," said Peter Brantley, cofounder of the Open Book Alliance. "Chairman Johnson brought a healthy dose of skepticism to the Google Book Settlement hearing last fall. He focused on the class, copyright, anti-trust and monopolization concerns that have been voiced by myriad stakeholders, including the U.S. Government, through the Department of Justice. Our hope is that the subcommittee will continue to look at the effects and dangerous precedent that could be set by the proposed Google Book Settlement."
During a prior House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Google Book Settlement in September 2009, the U.S. Register of Copyrights, Mary Beth Peters, testified that the Google Book Settlement, "inappropriately creates something similar to a compulsory license for works, unfairly alters the property interests of millions of rights-holders of out-of-print works without any Congressional oversight and has the capacity to create diplomatic stress for the United States."
The U.S. Justice Department believes the Google Book Settlement would enable broad dangers for online competition. In a February 2010 court filing, the Antitrust Division concluded that:
"…Google's exclusive access to millions and millions of books may well benefit Google's existing online search business. Google already holds a relatively dominant market share in that market. That dominance may be further entrenched by its exclusive access to content through the [proposed settlement]. Content that can be discovered by only one search engine offers that search engine at least some protection from competition. This outcome has not been achieved by a technological advance in search or by operation of normal market forces; rather, it is the direct product of scanning millions of books without the copyright holders' consent and then using Rule 23 to achieve results not otherwise obtainable in the market."
The Open Book Alliance agrees with the Department of Justice that the proposed Google Book Settlement could have sweeping, negative repercussions for online competition. Thursday's hearing will hopefully give careful scrutiny to the important copyright and competition policy issues the proposed settlement raises and consider legislative or regulatory measures that could address the fundamental unfairness of making public policy and re-crafting copyright law through litigation.