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Google pushes back in tussle over book search settlement

Juan Carlos Perez | April 30, 2009
Sources confirm the DOJ is asking questions about Google's settlement agreement with authors and publishers

The DOJ didn't tell the AAP exactly what portions of the settlement it wants to discuss, but Adler's understanding is that there is no formal inquiry at this point.

Consumer Watchdog also objected to what it considers is a "most favored nation" provision in the settlement towards Google, by preventing the Registry from offering better deals to Google competitors interested in offering access to books online.

Also this month, University of California at Berkeley law professor Pamela Samuelson argued against the settlement, saying it will endanger competition because of its orphan work provisions.

"The Book Search agreement is not really a settlement of a dispute over whether scanning books to index them is fair use. It is a major restructuring of the book industry's future without meaningful government oversight. The market for digitized orphan books could be competitive, but will not be if this settlement is approved as is," Samuelson wrote.

The AAP's Adler said it's not surprising to see objections raised to the settlement, particularly because critics may not fully understand certain provisions and facts, he said.

Once the confusion is clarified, Adler is confident that the objections will subside and that, in the end, the court will approve the settlement.

In the meantime, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, which will decide whether to approve the settlement or not, this week extended from June to September the period for members of the plaintiff class -- authors, publishers and rights holders in general -- to be notified of the agreement and mull whether to opt out of it.

In the fall of 2005, the Authors Guild and the AAP separately sued Google alleging that Google's wholesale scanning and indexing of in-copyright books without permission amounted to massive copyright violations. Book authors and the Authors Guild filed a class action lawsuit, while five large publishers filed a separate lawsuit as representatives of the AAP's membership.

The lawsuits were brought after Google launched a program to scan and index books from the libraries of major universities without always getting permission from the copyright owners of the books.

Google then made the text of the books searchable on its book search engine, although it argued it was protected by the fair use principle because it only showed snippets of text for in-copyright books it had scanned without permission.

Last October, the Authors Guild and the AAP hammered out a wide-ranging settlement agreement that calls for Google to pay US$125 million and in exchange gives the search giant rights to display chunks of these in-copyright books, not just snippets.

In addition, Google will make it possible for people to buy online access to these books. The agreement will also allow institutions to buy subscriptions to books and make them available to their constituents.


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