The Google Book Search Settlement: A New Orphan-Works Monopoly?
Posted: 13 Oct 2009
Date Written: September 2009
This paper considers the proposed settlement agreement between Google and the Authors Guild relating to Google Book Search (GBS). I focus on three issues that raise antitrust and competition policy concerns. First, the agreement calls for Google to act as agent for rightsholders in setting the price of online access to consumers. Google is tasked with developing a pricing algorithm that will maximize revenues for each of those works. Direct competition among rightsholders would push prices towards some measure of costs and would not be designed to maximize revenues. The consumer access pricing provision might very well fail a challenge under Section 1 of the Sherman Act. Second, and much more centrally to the settlement agreement, the opt-out class action will make it possible for Google to include orphan works in its book search service. Orphan works are works as to which the rightsholder cannot be identified or found. The opt-out class action is the vehicle for large-scale collective action by active rightsholders. Active rightsholders have little incentive to compete with themselves by granting multiple licenses of their works or of the orphan works. Plus under the terms of the settlement agreement, active rightsholders benefit directly from the revenues attributable to orphan works used in GBS. We can mitigate the market power that will otherwise arise through the settlement by expanding the number of rights licenses available under the settlement agreement. To do that, we should take the step of unbundling the orphan works deal from the overall settlement agreement and create a separate license to use those works. All of that will undoubtedly add more complexity to what is already a large piece of work, and it may make sense to push out the new licenses to the future. That would mean ensuring now that the court retains jurisdiction to do that and/or giving the new registry created in the settlement the power to do this sort of licensing. Third, there is a risk that approval by the court of the settlement could cause antitrust immunities to attach to the arrangements created by the settlement agreement. As it is highly unlikely that the fairness hearing will undertake a meaningful antitrust analysis of those arrangements, if the district court approves the settlement, the court should include a clause-call this a no Noerr clause-in the order approving the settlement providing that no antitrust immunities attach from the court's approval.
Keywords: D4, K20, K21, K41, L4, L43, O34
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