Centre protests copyright violation by Google Books

Written by Rituparna Bhuyan | New Delhi | Updated: Nov 9 2009, 06:30am hrs
Web portal Google Books initiative to create a digital library by scanning printed publications has triggered alarm bells in India, forcing the Centre to take up the matter with the US government. In a meeting held in the last week of October here, senior Indian officials told their US counterparts that the portal would encroach upon the copyrights of Indian authors and publishers.

Google Books is a portal managed by US-based search engine giant Google which can be used to access contents of over seven million books stored in its digital database. The portal has led to numerous class action suites by authors and publishers in the US, France and Germany for offering this facility in alleged violation of copyrights laws. In fact, an out- of-the-court settlement is being finalised between Google and Authors' Guild, an association of American publishers as well as some other authors and publishers, who had approached US courts, alleging copyrights infringement.

Indias point of view on Googles initiative was conveyed by commerce and industry ministry to a team of officials lead by United States Trade Representative, Ron Kirk. The US side took on board Indias concerns, a official privy to the development told FE on condition of anonymity.

At the root of Indias concern is the settlement worked out between Google and the Authors Guild that will be applicable to any person who has a US copyright interest. According to US laws, a book does not necessarily need to be published in the US to enjoy a US copyright interest. A book published in the US or any other country which is signatory to the Bern Convention can own a copyright under the US law.

The settlement was arrived in October 2008 - which is yet to be approved by the US court - involves payment of $ 125 million to publishers and authors whose rights were encroached upon by Google. Authors and publishers will have to register their work to receive compensation. They also have an option to opt out of the scheme.

Copyrights experts maintain that an Indian copyright owner, whose book has been scanned and put in the portal without permission can sue Google. It is the users obligation to find out who is the owner of a copyright. Publishers or authors anywhere in the world owning a copyright can take legal recourse if their rights have been infringed, said Jagdish Sagar, consultant at Anand and Anand, a Delhi-based law firm specialising in intellectual property rights (IPR).

International publishers like the French publishing group La Martiniere and Editions du Seuil have initiated legal action against Google on the issue. German chancellor Angela Merkel had also voiced her concern on initiatives taken by portals like Google Books to digitise books. In fact, Germany has told a US court that the portal violates copyright laws.

Google has maintained that it respects copyright laws. If the book is in the public domain and therefore out of copyright, you can page through the entire book and even download it and read it offline. But if the book is under copyright, and the publisher or author is not part of the Partner Program, we only show basic information about the book, similar to a card catalog, and, in some cases, a few snippets -- sentences of your search terms in context, the FAQ section in the Google Book portal says. However, authors and publishers across the world, including the Indian and the German governments are not convinced.

According to NS Gopalakrishnan, professor , School of Legal Studies, Cochin University of Science & Technology, Indian authors should approach the US court dealing with the issue. Copyright of Indians should also be taken care in the settlement, said Gopalakrishnan, who has advised the Indian government on IPR in the past.

According to India, the portal and the settlement would have far-reaching impact on material published in India. The key reason for Indias concern is that authors and publishers of the country, where books gets published not only in Hindi and English but also in numerous regional languages, are not aware of the settlement that is being worked out. Hence, authors in India may not be aware that their copyright has been violated. India is a large country. It would be difficult to make all authors aware of the terms and conditions of the settlement, the official said. This, according to India is a violation of the principles of natural justice, as the rights of the authors will be violated without their knowledge.

Moreover, India also feels that if authors do not opt out of the agreement, the conditions of the settlement will be binding on them. In addition, if any one opts out, it does not prevent Google to digitize a book and make its contents available for search. It also means that the Settlement neither authorizes Google to make certain uses of these books and Inserts nor does it prohibit Google from doing so, the FAQ section of the Google Book portal says.