Court Refuses to Approve Settlement of Authors' Suit over Google's Scanning of Books

The District Court for the Southern District of New York has refused to approve the settlement in a class action copyright infringement suit brought by the Authors Guild and others against Google, Inc. The Authors Guild v. Google, Inc., SDNY, No. 05 Civ. 8136 (DC), 3/22/2011.

The alleged infringement involves Google’s digitalization of millions of books by scanning, initially undertaken to permit comprehensive text searching. While acknowledging the many benefits that Google’s scanning would provide, Judge Denny Chin concluded that the proposed settlement agreement went too far.

The suit initially addressed Google’s scanning and display of “snippets” for online searching, but the settlement would grant Google the right to sell full access to copyrighted works that it otherwise would have no right to exploit, according to the court, including orphan books and other unclaimed works. Quoting the government’s filing in the case, Judge Chin said the settlement “is an attempt to use the class action mechanism to implement forward-looking business arrangements that go far beyond the dispute before the Court in this litigation.” He continued as follows:

The questions of who should be entrusted with guardianship over orphan books, under what terms, and with what safeguards are matters more appropriately decided by Congress than through an agreement among private, self-interested parties. Indeed, the Supreme Court has held that “it is generally for Congress, not the courts, to decide how best to pursue the Copyright Clause’s objectives.” Eldred v. Ashcroft, 537 U.S. 186, 212 (2003).

The court noted that the settlement agreement provides an extensive and complex arrangement to compensate copyright owners, but it also noted that the vast majority of approximately 500 submissions objected to the settlement, and that some 6,800 class members opted out of the litigation. In the end, the court was more persuaded by concerns over the scope of the settlement, the prerogatives of Congress, and the antitrust implications for Google’s online competitors.

To read the court’s opinion in this case, click here.

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