GBS: Marybeth Peters Written Testimony

In the view of the Copyright Office, the settlement proposed by the parties would encroach on responsibility for copyright policy that traditionally has been the domain of Congress. The settlement is not merely a compromise of existing claims, or an agreement to compensate past copying and snippet display. Rather, it could affect the exclusive rights of millions of copyright owners, in the United States and abroad, with respect to their abilities to control new products and new markets, for years and years to come. We are greatly concerned by the parties’ end run around legislative process and prerogatives, and we submit that this Committee should be equally concerned.

As outlined below, the Copyright Office also believes that some of the settlement terms have merit and should be encouraged under separate circumstances. For example, the creation of a rights registry for book authors, publishers and potential licensees is a positive development that could offer the copyright community, the technology sector and the public a framework for licensing works in digital form and collecting micropayments in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Likewise, the promise to offer millions of titles through libraries in formats accessible by persons who are blind and print disabled is not only responsible and laudable, but should be the baseline practice for those who venture into digital publishing. The ability of copyright owners and technology companies to share advertising revenue and other potential income streams is a worthy and symbiotic business goal that makes a lot of sense when the terms are mutually determined. And the increased abilities of libraries to offer on-line access to books and other copyrighted works is a development that is both necessary and possible in the digital age. However, none of these possibilities should require Google to have immediate, unfettered, and risk-free access to the copyrighted works of other people. They are not a reason to throw out fundamental copyright principles; they are a pretext to do so.

In the testimony below, we will address three specific points. First, we will explain why allowing Google to continue to scan millions of books into the future, on a rolling schedule with no deadline, is tantamount to creating a private compulsory license through the judiciary. This is not to say that a compulsory license or collective license for book digitization projects may or may not be an interesting idea. Rather, our point is that such decisions are the domain of Congress and must be weighed openly and deliberately, and with a clear sense of both the beneficiaries and the public objective.

Second, we will explain why certain provisions of the proposed settlement dramatically compromise the legal rights of authors, publishers and other persons who own out-of-print books. Under copyright law, out-of-print works enjoy the same legal protection as in-print works. To allow a commercial entity to sell such works without consent is an end-run around copyright law as we know it. Moreover, the settlement would inappropriately interfere with the on-going efforts of Congress to enact orphan works legislation in a manner that takes into account the concerns of all stakeholders as well as the United States’ international obligations.

Finally, we will explain that foreign rights holders and foreign governments have raised concerns about the potential impact of the proposed settlement on their exclusive rights and national, digitization projects. The settlement, in its present form, presents a possibility that the United States will be subjected to diplomatic stress.

“Diplomatic stress” is a great term.

‘It could affect the exclusive rights of millions of copyright owners, in the United States and abroad, with respect to their abilities to control new products and new markets, for years and years to come.’

Yes. We own our digital rights, and we, not Google or the Authors Guild, are entitled to decide how best to exploit them. Google and the other settling parties have no right to combine to distort the development of an emerging market in digital books.

The “diplomatic stress” has already occurred as evidenced by the very explicit Objections/Amicus briefs filed by France and Germany, and by authors and publishers groups in Australia, Sweden, the Netherlands, Japan, New Zealand, and many other nations.