Antitrust & Competition Policy Blog

Editor: D. Daniel Sokol
University of Florida
Levin College of Law

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Antitrust and the Google Books Settlement: The Problem of Simultaneity

Posted by D. Daniel Sokol

Former 2009 Swope Prize winner Eric Fraser has posted Antitrust and the Google Books Settlement: The Problem of Simultaneity.

ABSTRACT: Google Books represents the latest attempt at the centuries-old goal to build a universal library. In 2004, Google started scanning books from libraries around the world. Although it made copyright licensing agreements with some publishers, it did not obtain permission from each rights-holder before scanning, indexing, and displaying portions of books from the stacks of libraries. Unsurprisingly, authors and publishers sued for copyright violations. Google settled the class action lawsuit in a sweeping agreement that has raised suspicion from librarians, users, and the government. In this paper, I analyze the antitrust and competition issues in the settlement agreement. I find that the simultaneous aspects of agreements and pricing pose serious antitrust problems. The settlement effectively gives Google simultaneous agreements with virtually all the rights-holders to in-copyright American books. It also requires that Google set prices for books simultaneously. In a competitive market, both agreements and pricing would occur independently. Under current law, however, no potential competitor can make agreements with the rights-holders to orphan works. The simultaneity, therefore, concentrates pricing power, leading to cartel pricing (a problem under § 1 of the Sherman Act) and monopolization (a § 2 problem).

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