September 23, 2009

Google Forced To Renegotiate $125 Million Book Settlement

Google's $125 million settlement of a lawsuit that would give them the digital rights to millions of out-of-print books will be renegotiated after the U.S. Department of Justice ruled that the deal probably violates antitrust law, The Associated Press reported.

Google representatives and lawyers for The Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers and other plaintiffs met with senior Justice Department officials last Thursday and agreed to work with the government to resolve concerns.

The Internet search leader set out to scan millions of books and make them searchable and available for online purchase, with publishers and authors getting most of the money from the sales of books that are still protected by copyright.

Google claims the service will revitalize works that might otherwise be forgotten.

In a brief filed last week, the Justice Department told U.S. District Judge Denny Chin that the agreement threatens to give Google the power to increase book prices and discourage competition. 

However, it said a renegotiated settlement might obey U.S. copyright and antitrust laws.

An improved settlement "has the potential to breathe life into millions of works that are now effectively off limits to the public," government officials said.

"As the United States government put it, no one wants 'the opportunity or momentum to be lost,'" lawyers for the authors and publishers said in court papers on Tuesday.

Chin was urged to delay an Oct. 7 hearing after government officials said that a new agreement may take away some objections among the roughly 400 opinions, both pro and con.

Hundreds of objections came in from individuals and corporate entities, according to lawyers for the Author's Guild. They also noted that the governments of Germany and France and the attorneys general in Connecticut, Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington were also against the idea.

The deal has also received heavy criticism from Google rivals Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp.

"Google is considering the points raised by the Department of Justice and others, and we look forward to addressing them as the court proceedings continue," said Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker.

Key copyright issues should be settled by Congress in a fully public process, according to Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit consumer advocacy group that has asked the court to reject the settlement.

John M. Simpson, a consumer advocate with Consumer Watchdog who was one of eight witnesses to testify about the deal to the House Judiciary Committee, said Google and the authors and publishers groups are essentially back at square one and must re-negotiate the deal.

"The settlement with Google offers the best path to making millions of out-of-print books available to readers, students, and scholars and opening up new markets for authors," said Authors Guild Executive Director Paul Aiken, who added that the group still wants to address the Justice Department's concerns

Google and the publishing industry announced the settlement last October to resolve two copyright lawsuits contesting the book scanning plans.


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