1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Book search

September 2, 2009

The German government has officially expressed its opposition to plans by Internet search giant Google to digitize millions of books. Berlin said the US company's program violates German copyright and privacy laws.

A person standing at the end of a long row of bookcases
Searching for a book? Head to the stacks not the Internet, Germany saidImage: AP

Germany said a settlement Google reached with authors and publishers regarding the digitization of millions of books should be rejected because it infringes on copyright and privacy laws, according to a pair of legal briefs filed Aug. 31.

"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 the Handelsblatt business daily on Wednesday.

"German rights holders then can decide on their own whether they want to give Google any rights," she said in a statement.

Germany opposes a proposed deal made by Google and the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers, among others, in October 2008. Berlin has said the deal would allow Google to digitize books by German authors without their consent, according to the pair of legal documents dated Aug. 31.

Digitizing the books would break German copyright law as well as laws regarding privacy for Internet users, according to the brief, which was signed by Johannes Christian Wichard, deputy director general of the Directorate of Commercial and Economic Law in Germany's Justice Ministry.

Flouting German law

A book's pages being scanned
Google has scanned millions of works, including about 100,000 German onesImage: AP

The deal would allow Google to "flout German laws that have been established to protect German authors and publishers, including with respect to digital copying, publishing and the dissemination of their works," Wichard said, adding that the court's decision would have long-term effects on worldwide copyright laws.

The settlement should also be rejected because most of the German authors, publishers and libraries that would ultimately be affected by the deal had no role in negotiating the settlement, the brief said.

"[The settlement] fails to acknowledge the important role that German authors play in world literature," Wichard said, adding that only German authors with US publishers were represented by the American Authors Guild even though the settlement would apply to any German author who published a book between Jan. 1, 1923 and Jan. 5, 2009.

The deal agreed to by the Guild and Google gives authors until Friday to inform the US Internet company if they do not want their works digitized. Google has agreed to pay $125 million to create a Book Rights Registry, where authors and publishers can register works and receive compensation.

The settlement calls for authors whose works are digitized without their permission to receive a one-time payment of $60, a sum Germany called too low in the court filing.

Google: deal limited to US

Europeana logo
The EU is working on its own digitial archive, EuropeanaImage: europeana

Google acknowledged Berlin's opposition but said German law should not influence an American court.

"The scope of our US settlement is limited to the US and comes under US law and only US readers will benefit," Antoine Aubert, Google's European copyright policy counsel, said in a statement. "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."

Critics have said the deal would allow Google - and only Google - to digitize so-called orphan works, which could raise antitrust issues. Orphan works are books or other materials that are covered by copyright laws, though it is unclear who owns the rights.

Tech opposition

The digitizing deal has divided the tech, publishing and antitrust worlds.

Online giants Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo joined an alliance opposing the legal settlement. Both the American Library Association and Association of Research Libraries have asked for court oversight regarding possible fees Google would be able to charge for access to books.

The US Justice Department is investigating the deal while European Union antitrust enforcers, prompted by Germany, have said they would study it. In Brussels, EU Media Commissioner Viviane Reding, however, welcomed Google's initiative.

A person holding a Sony e-book reader
E-book maker Sony supports Google's Book Search programImage: AP

"It is good to see that new business models are evolving which could allow bringing more content to an increasing number of consumers," Reding said in a statement last week.

The settlement still requires a judge's approval. A "fairness hearing" has been scheduled for Oct. 7.


Editor: Kate Bowen