The Google book settlement, the subject of a court hearing next month, allows Google to scan out-of-print books without permission from copyright owners, creating a sort of compulsory license, said Marybeth Peters, register of copyrights at the US Copyright Office.
The settlement "allows Google to continue to scan millions of books into the future and permits Google to engage in a number of activities ... that are indisputably acts of copyright infringement," Peters told the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.
The settlement seeks to circumvent "full public debate" and Congress' authority to change copyright law by allowing Google new rights for digital books, she added.
"The settlement would alter the landscape of copyright law, for millions and millions of rights holders of out-of-print books," Peters said.
"It would flip copyright on its head by allowing Google to engage in extensive new uses without the consent of the copyright owner - in my view, making a mockery of Article One of the Constitution, that anticipates that authors shall be granted exclusive rights."
A hearing on the settlement is scheduled for October 7 in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. In October last year, after three years of negotiations, Google, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers announced a settlement of lawsuits filed against Google after it began scanning books without copyright owners' permission.
Google has scanned about 10 million books and has begun offering access to books with its Google Books product.
Representatives of Google, the Authors Guild and the National Federation of the Blind defended the book deal, saying it will give the public access to millions of out-of-print and so-called orphaned books. Orphaned books are those for which no one claims copyright, and the settlement sets up an independent book registry that will seek to find the owners of orphaned works.
Blind people will gain access to digitised versions of books, which can be run through text-to-speech software, advocates said
But critics said the settlement gives Google an unfair advantage by allowing it blanket access to most books. The settlement rewards Google for scanning first without asking authors and publishers for permission, said Paul Misener, vice president of global policy at Amazon.
Amazon has scanned about three million books, Misener said. "The difference is, and probably the only significant difference between their book-scanning project and ours, is we first sought permission from the rights holders," he said. "We went to the rights holders, and one by one, negotiated deals ... to be allowed, legally, to scan these books."
The settlement releases Google from liability for any past and future copyright infringement, giving the company a huge advantage over competitors, Misener said.
David Drummond, the Google chief legal officer, said Google will expand retailer access to books scanned and sold by the company. Google has already committed to allow retailers access to sell in-print books scanned by Google.
However, the search engine also announced that Google would expand that program to out-of-print books covered by the settlement. Amazon and other retailers will be able to sell those books and get part of Google's revenue share, he said.