The title reminds Blawgletter of an Obama-era antitrust probe, which features Google as the likely bad guy that may — or may not — climb down the third pig's brick chimney into a boiling caldron.
On April 29, we noted:
Google Book Search Will Get Antitrust Look
The Paper of Record today reports that the Department of Justice has opened a file on a license pact between Google and people who write and publish books. The licensing deal would settle copyright claims against Google for its Google Book Search service. Google describes the "groundbreaking agreement with authors and publishers" here.
Critics contend that the deal gives Google too much power over the online book search market.
The federal judge handling the copyright lawsuit, a class action, extended the "opt out" date for class members to September 4, 2009. That means copyright owners can choose to exclude themselves from the pending settlement by giving notice of their choice by that date.
The Paper of Record reported last month:
“Up to now, Google has been very careful to avoid predatory behavior,” said Christine A. Varney, a partner at the law firm Hogan & Hartson and a former member of the Federal Trade Commission. “But a transaction like this [a now-kaput deal with Yahoo on search ads], I think, is fundamentally anticompetitive.”
Ms. Varney since has become the head of the Antitrust Division in the DOJ. Uh-oh.
The WSJ reports today (actually, tomorrow):
The U.S. Justice Department said it is investigating a settlement between Google Inc. and authors and publishers, saying that antitrust issues raised by the deal warrant scrutiny by the agency.
Deputy Assistant Attorney General William Cavanaugh disclosed the investigation in a letter to U.S. District Court Judge Denny Chin, who is scheduled to review the settlement. Mr. Cavanaugh wrote that the Justice Department hasn't yet reached any conclusions on "what impact this settlement may have on competition."
* * * *
The agreement, which was struck to resolve a copyright lawsuit between Google, authors and publishers, gives Google copyright licenses over millions of digital books it has scanned since 2004 to include in its book search service and to sell in digital form to consumers and libraries. In exchange, it has agreed to share revenue earned by selling access to digital copies and advertising against books with rights holders.
Hmmm. We'd like to see a tad more flesh on the antitrust bones here. Does the Department of Justice suspect, for example, that the deal may give the Don't Be Evil people undue control over online demand for digital copies of paper-and-ink publications? And so what if the pact does create — or leverage –market power? Does that make Google the modern-day big bad wolf?
It might. It just might.