Everybody But Google Knows it’s a Monopoly
Over the last week, Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post and Google have been engaged in a back and forth over Google’s monopolistic behavior. Of course, Google claims that it is not a monopoly (notwithstanding the fact that the French, among others, disagree). But as Pearlstein accurately notes, Google isn’t just a search engine any more: “In addition to online advertising, it’s moving into operating system and application software, mobile telephone software, e-mail, Web browsers, maps, and video aggregation. It’s also in the process of assembling the world’s biggest digital library of books and visual materials” and in his reply to Google’s post, concludes that “Google’s aggressive acquisition strategy, combined with its dominance, makes [open competition] unlikely. The tipping point has now been reached.”
The online community is just now beginning to realize what opponents of the Google Books Settlement have known for some time: Google has a long history of leveraging its position as the world’s dominant search engine to move into new markets in a way that is detrimental to the spirit of free and fair competition.
Google likes to assert that when it moves into new markets, such as digitization of books, it does so on behalf of consumers – but as followers of the GBS are well aware, Google’s motives are not as pure as it would have you believe. Fundamentally, as we pointed out last week, what Google is trying to do is in reality a “commercial venture that aims to monetize millions of out-of-print books….” And the Wall Street Journal writes this week that the monetization of “Google’s controversial trove of digital books” has already begun.
The GBS, if approved, would give Google monopoly control over an exclusive trove of digital content from their unauthorized scanning exploits. As we have always said, the GBS is abusing the class action process to approve a deal negotiated in secret for years to serve private, not public, interests. In contrast, the Library Journal reported this week that there is a new effort underway to bring disparate stakeholders together in an open and collaborative process to find common-ground solutions to digitization issues. As one of the leaders of the effort said, “the idea is to create a big tent where lots of people can work hard toward a public-spirited solution . . . . It’s not a competitive effort. It’s meant to be complementary to its core.”
Digitizing the world’s books is an admirable goal and is one that we share. But it is essential that the process is open and maximizes benefits to citizens, scholars and students – not the commercial interests of a single company.