Google: Changing Laws Around the World

October 25, 2009 | | Comments Off on Google: Changing Laws Around the World

Colourfull Books

As both sides of the Google books controversy try to work on a revised settlement before the new November 9th deadline, the effects continue to ripple across the globe: on Monday, the European Commission announced plans to work on revising copyright law in the EU. Citing the need to compete on the digital frontier, Commissioner Viviane Reding stated, “Important digitization efforts have already started all around the globe. Europe should seize this opportunity to take the lead, and to ensure that books digitization takes place on the basis of European copyright law, and in full respect of Europe’s cultural diversity. Europe, with its rich cultural heritage, has most to offer and most to win from books digitization. If we act swiftly, pro-competitive European solutions on books digitization may well be sooner operational than the solutions presently envisaged under the Google Books Settlement in the United States.”

This potential change seems to have been triggered by a growing frustration over the last few months with the terms of the US settlement and unwillingness to let Google monopolize digitization. Google has had a harder time arguing its case under current EU law; the concept of fair use generally doesn’t exist in Europe, and violation of copyright often carries strict liability. So far Google has limited its European scanning to works that are at least 150 years old, to avoid issues with copyright. But the settlement as it currently stands doesn’t address a number of European problems (pdf download), and the European Commission began hearings at the beginning of September to discuss specific grievances.

Google attempted to calm European fears at the start of the hearings by announcing that books still listed as commercially available in Europe would not be included in its U.S. registry of out-of-print and orphaned works. The company faced strong opposition, however, as it began trial in a suit brought by the French Publishers Association and Society of AuthorsHerve de la Martiniere, representing publishing association, commented, “It is unacceptable that someone would arrogantly take your books and digitize them without asking.” Protests have been especially strong in France since Google began talks with the French National Library in August, and France’s culture minister, Frédéric Mitterrand, spoke out against the 2005 digitization project, claiming it violated both “intellectual property law [and] competition law and constitutes a threat to cultural diversity.”

Just two weeks ago, as this year’s Frankfurt Book Festival prepared to open, German Chancellor Angela Merkel attacked Google, citing the “considerable dangers” involved in copyright protection on the Internet.

“The German government has a clear position: copyrights have to be protected in the Internet,” she said. Her supporters sparked at least one argument during the Federation of European Publishers’ talks with its American counterpart during the Festival; Heidelberg University professor of literature Roland Reuss attacked both Google and the AAP, saying that Google’s ideals were “just a whole garbage of hysterical propaganda.”

As the Festival concluded, the FEP asked for all European works to be excluded from the revised Google Settlement, pointing out that neither of the plaintiffs in the US case had the right to negotiate for their European counterparts. Anne Bergman-Tahon, director of the FEP, said: “If there is anything to be decided, it should be decided by European publishers, but as they have not been part of the discussion, we would prefer our works to be outside of the Settlement.”

The Commission’s potential revision of the law will address most of the issues that have come up in these attacks, but not necessarily to Google’s benefit. The plan is to focus specifically on “simple and cost-efficient rights clearance covering mass-scale digitization,” suggesting a strong feeling against allowing the Google to hold a monopoly on digitized work. They point out that orphan and out-of-print works will come in for particular consideration, and hope to create EU-wide standards to control dissemination. Any changes they suggest will have to be approved by each of the EU governments, which could take time.

In the meanwhile, strong feeling against the settlement have recently surfaced in another part of the world entirely: three days ago, the China Written Works Copyright Society (CWWCS) took a stand against Google, calling on Chinese writers to stand up for their rights. This is an unexpected move from a country known for casual violations of intellectual property, and could lead to interesting repercussions. Will China start a fuller examination of its own copyright law? As lawyers continue to hammer out the Google settlement, they could change copyright policies in more places than just the US.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user digicla.


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