The U.S. Department of Justice officially confirmed on Thursday that it has launched a formal investigation into the settlement between Google Book Search and publishers over digital publishing rights. The primary focus of the case is antitrust concerns which allege that Google may have engaged in anticompetitive practices involving intellectual property rights and their distribution.
Google’s foray into the world of digital books has been a turbulent one, and though their troubles appeared to be coming to a close last November with a $125 million settlement, the DOJ appears to be less than satisfied. The concern is that following the settlement, Google was effectively given a monopoly over copyright on out of print works. Anyone outside of Google who wished to pursue publishing of these titles online would need to negotiate with the individual authors, many of whom are difficult, if not impossible to find.
Google’s counter argument has always been that the digital book market is still wide open. They claim that any potential competitor who wanted to enter the book scanning market could simply negotiate a deal with the Books Rights Registry. The Registry is a nonprofit organization that was established during the settlement to represent the interests of the authors. Critics argue that Google’s head start makes competing difficult, and many worry about having so much information in the hands of one company. Google continues to shrug off concerns, and likes to remind everyone that competition “is just a click away”.
Do you agree? See below to review the official letter from the DOJ and leave your thoughts.