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Discussions continue in Google Books lawsuit, attorneys say

Marc Ferranti and Juan Carlos Perez | Sept. 15, 2011
Google and representatives for authors and publishers told a U.S. District Court judge Thursday that they would like to continue discussions on a revised settlement in a copyright infringement case that has dragged on for years.

Google's defense all along has been that it is acting legally because it only shows snippets of texts in search results from copyrighted books it didn't have permission to digitize. This, Google argues, is legal under the fair use doctrine, which allows for the reproduction of limited copyrighted material.

The plaintiffs allege that Google is violating copyright law because it has no right to copy books and store digitized copies on its servers without permission.

In October 2008, Google and the plaintiffs made the surprising announcement that they had hammered out a proposed settlement. The extremely complex document drew both praise and intense criticism.

The revised proposal narrowed the scope of the settlement but failed to calm the critics, including the DOJ, which recommended in a filing with the court that the judge reject it because it felt that it didn't comply with U.S. antitrust and copyright laws.

That settlement proposal called for Google to pay US$125 million and in exchange obtain from the plaintiffs rights to display longer portions of in-copyright books.

The settlement also would have made it possible for people and institutions to buy online access to the books through individual purchases or subscriptions. Revenue would also have been generated from Google's online ads.

The agreement proposed creating an independent, nonprofit entity called the Book Rights Registry to locate copyright owners and compensate authors and publishers for access to their works via a royalty system.

Some arguments against the proposal were that it would give Google too much control over the books and their prices, especially the so-called "orphan works," whose copyright owners can't be located and which are often out of print.

Interestingly, the orphan works issue resurfaced this week, when the Authors Guild and other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against some of the universities participating in Google's library book scanning project.

That new lawsuit targets sued five universities and a library partnership organization, charging them with copyright infringement over their use of digitized copies of books made by Google in its Books Library Project.

Named are the University of Michigan, the University of California, the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, Cornell University and the HathiTrust. Joining the Authors Guild as plaintiffs are the Australian Society of Authors, the Union Des Écrivaines et des Écrivains Québécois (UNEQ) and eight individual authors.

Several major universities founded the HathiTrust in 2008 as a repository for their research institutions and libraries to archive and share their digitized book collections, which have been scanned in-house, by Google, Microsoft and the Internet Archive.

Although universities have been participating in the Google Books Library Project since 2004, the new lawsuit apparently was triggered by recent plans by some of the universities, including the University of Michigan, to provide their patrons with full-text access to digitized orphan works


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