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German Government lodges objection to Google Books deal

The German Government has lodged an objection to the deal which will allow Google to continue to scan, and sell digitised copies of, many of the world's in-copyright books.03 Sep 2009

A court will decide in October if a $125 million deal between Google and the US Authors Guild should be permitted. The deal allows Google to scan and sell books that are in copyright but out of print, including 'orphan works' whose copyright holder cannot be traced.

Germany, though, has said that the deal should not be allowed to go ahead and that it would undermine the rights of German authors within the US. Its submission also said that the availability of the service outside the US would affect other book markets.

"Once the database is posted, internet users even in Germany will have access to the Google Books Search by using a freely accessible US proxy server," said the submission, according to the Wall Street Journal. "In other words, even if the digital book database is entirely localized within the United States, it will still be available for search requests from Germany."

"We hope that the court strikes down the approval of the settlement in the class-action suit, or at least excludes our German authors and publishers from the so-called class so the settlement has no impact on them," German justice minister Brigitte Zypries told German newspaper Handelsblatt this week.

Zypries told the paper that the move violated a 1996 World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) treaty on copyright, and that it threatened attempts in Europe to establish public digital libraries.

The European Commission opened a consultation process last week on how best it should operate a digital library of scanned in European works. That library exists, though it contains around half the number of items as Google's. It is called Europeana and contains films and pictures as well as books.

"The digitisation of books is a Herculean task but also opens up cultural content to millions of citizens in Europe and beyond," said EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media Viviane Reding. "This is why I welcome first efforts made by Member States and their cultural institutions to fill the shelves of Europe's digital library … however, I find it alarming that only 5% of all digitised books in the EU are available on Europeana."

Google said that it disagreed with Germany's analysis of its plans.

"The German government has filed a brief in US court raising concerns about our settlement with authors and publishers on the basis of German law," said Antoine Aubert, Google's European copyright policy counsel. "We don't agree since the scope of our US settlement is limited to the US and comes under US law and only US readers will benefit."

"Of course, we will listen carefully to all concerns and will work hard to address them. Our goal remains bringing millions of the world's difficult-to-find, out-of-print books back to life," he said.

Google's deal is the result of a class action law suit brought in the US on behalf of authors whose in-copyright but out of print books were being scanned by the search giant. Google agreed to pay $125m to settle existing and future claims and to share revenues from the sales of books with copyright holders.

Authors have until the end of this week to opt out of the deal, and the 'fairness hearing' on the deal is scheduled for October.

Expertise in Copyright

Copyright is an extremely valuable, often unrecognised or misunderstood right which protects a whole range of original materials including written materials, software, artistic materials, music and dramatic works. It arises automatically without the need for registration in most countries and protects these materials from unauthorised copying. It is essential in business to identify such rights, ensure they are owned by the correct entity, properly protected, enforced and exploited.

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