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Google Faces Scrutiny Over Digitized Book Deal

May 9, 2009

Across the U.S., a number of state attorneys general have begun taking a closer look at a proposed deal between Google Inc. and several author and publisher groups that would allow the Internet giant to digitize millions of books, a participant in the discussions told reporters on Friday.

In an hour-long conference call on Tuesday, state legal authorities examined and discussed the deal in depth together, according to director of the Internet Archive, Peter Brantley.

The U.S. Justice Department is also closely inspecting an agreement that Google reached to resolve copyright disputes after announcing its project to make millions of books available to read on the Internet.

The deal has begun taking heat recently, as Google failed to mention how much subscriptions to the online-book service would cost libraries, who are worried that the service could become a prohibitively expensive “Ëœmust-have.’

“There was no indication that there was any specific activity planned,” by state attorneys general, commented Brantley.  His own non-profit company, Internet Archive, also digitizes books and constructs libraries of digital Internet sites.

Google spokesmen have suggested that the deal will expand access to millions of books to millions of people.

“The Department of Justice and several state attorneys general have contacted us to learn more about the impact of the settlement, and we are happy to answer their questions,” stated a Google representative in an official, e-mailed statement.

Critics of Google’s settlement claim that it will give the Internet company a monopoly of the digitization of so-called “Ëœorphan works’, which they say would be a breach of antitrust laws.

The term “Ëœorphan works’ refers to published books that are still technically covered by U.S. copyright laws, though the actual owners of the copyrights are unknown.

“My impression is that the questions focused mainly on fact gathering,” said Brantley in reference to the Tuesday conference call.  He noted that much of the discussion centered around the question of whether the authors of the orphan works are being properly represented by the deal.

Last October, Google and the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers reached a tentative joint settlement that would authorize Google to create a Book Rights Registry for $125 million.  Through the registry, authors and publishers would be able to add new works and receive royalty payments made from institutional subscriptions and online book sales.

It took two years of talks to reach the agreement, which Google co-founder Sergey Brin has praised as a “great leap” for the world of digital media.  The settlement first came under the scrutiny of the U.S. Justice Department after a New York judge froze the proceedings for the deal’s approval to allow individuals affected by the deal greater time to consider its possible effects.

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