Commentary

Google Books Decision: “The Privacy Concerns are Real”

A federal district court in New York today issued a long-awaited ruling in the Google Books case, Authors Guild v. Google, rejecting the proposed settlement between the parties.

EFF participated in the case as counsel to a collection of authors and publishers, including Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem and Cory Doctorow, who objected to the settlement based on concerns about reader privacy. EFF worked with the ACLU and the Samuelson Clinic at University of California at Berkeley on the objection.

While noting that “[T]he privacy concerns are real,” the court decided that they were not a basis, in themselves, to reject the proposed settlement. It noted that the settlement contained privacy protections for Rightsholders and also noted that Google had “committed” to certain safeguards for readers, while acknowledging that those were voluntary only. The court closed with a strong nudge to Google: “I would think that certain additional privacy protections could be incorporated, while still accommodating Google’s marketing efforts.”

We look forward to continuing our discussions with Google about implementing additional privacy protections in whatever form the Google Books project takes as it moves forward. In the meantime, EFF and the ACLU are also working together on digital book privacy legislation in California, which should be introduced shortly. The proposed law, which partially grew out of our negotiations with Google, will extend to digital booksellers and libraries the longstanding privacy protections against overreaching government and civil litigation demands for information about readers.

We’ll have more to say soon about the Authors Guild v Google decision’s potential implications for antitrust, class action and copyright law. The bottom line, for now, is that this ruling greatly increases the need for Congress to step in to fix copyright law to allow for the mass digitization of copyright works, whether under Orphan Works legislation or otherwise. The future must include wide, digital access to the world’s accumulated knowledge in books. Regardless of whether this decision is appealed or the agreement is renegotiated, the ball is now in Congress’ court to make it so.

This article was written by Cindy Cohn, and first published on Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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