An Antitrust Assessment of the Google Book Search Settlement

Intellectual Property, Competition Policy and Antitrust, Copyright and Trademark and Search and Advertising

Article Snapshot


Mark Lemley


Media & Informatierecht, Vol. 55, April 2010


This paper looks at competition issues in the settlement of publishers’ and authors’ copyright suit against Google.

Policy Relevance

The arguments that the Google Book search settlement raises antitrust concerns are unpersuasive. The settlement is unlikely to give Google a monopoly over older books.

Main Points




  • Google’s Book Search project is an attempt to digitize a large percentage of the world’s books. Before Google undertook this project, many of these books were available only from major libraries.
  • Some are concerned that the proposed settlement of the copyright lawsuit by publishers’ and authors’ against Google gives Google a monopoly over certain types of books, “orphan works.” This paper argues that these concerns are unfounded.
  • “Orphan works” are books that are hard for anyone to republish, because it is hard to identify or contact the copyright owner. The settlement would allow Google to make “orphan works” available to the public.
  • The argument that this would give Google an unfair advantage in distributing “orphan works” does not make sense because:
    • The settlement does not give Google exclusive rights to distribute the works.
    • The settlement would help others license many works, by establishing a “Book Rights Registry” and clarifying when works are in the public domain.
    • A minority of books are true “orphans.”  
    • The fact that Google is the first to offer a service does not mean that it is a “monopoly;” there are no high barriers to entry that would stop Yahoo or another firm from offering a competitor to Google Book Search.
    • A license to use old, out-of-print books is unlikely to add to Google’s market power.

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