Judge sets deadline for new Google book deal

A judge received hundreds of complaints about the original deal between publishers and Google.
A judge received hundreds of complaints about the original deal between publishers and Google.

A federal judge has set a Nov. 9 deadline for submitting a revised agreement in the battle over Google Inc.’s effort to get digital rights to millions of out-of-print books.

U.S. District Judge Denny Chin set the deadline after a lawyer for authors told the judge that Google and lawyers for authors and publishers were working around the clock to reach a new deal by early November.

A $125 million agreement was being renegotiated after the U.S. government said it seemed the existing agreement would violate antitrust laws. The hearing on Oct. 7 was originally set as a fairness hearing but was changed to a scheduling conference after all sides agreed that a new deal was needed.

The original deal was announced by Mountain View, Calif.-based Google and the publishing industry last October to resolve two copyright lawsuits contesting the book scanning plans.

Michael Boni, a lawyer for authors, told the judge that the new agreement would contain amendments to the original deal to make it more acceptable to the U.S. Justice Department, which had questioned its legality.

William F. Cavanaugh, a deputy assistant attorney general, told the judge that the Justice Department has been in continuing discussions with the parties.

However, he said the government was not yet aware of what the final deal will look like.

He said he expected “meetings in the near term to go over whatever their proposal is.”

Cavanaugh asked that the judge give the government a week to 10 days after any deadline for objections to be submitted for the Justice Department to prepare its analysis of the new deal.

At one point, Chin asked what will happen if negotiations break down and no deal is reached.

Google lawyer Daralyn Durie reassured the judge, saying: “The parties’ expectation is we will be able to reach agreement.”

Chin did not set deadlines for when objections will be required to be submitted but said he expected he will allow objections only to any new provisions, because core features of the agreement are expected to remain intact.

“Everyone has a pretty good idea what’s on the table,” he said. “Targeting the changes, I think, is the right way to do it.”

The judge received nearly 400 submissions about the original deal, many of them expressing disapproval.

After the Justice Department said the orginal deal probably would have violated antitrust law, plaintiffs–which include the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers–began renegotiating with Google.

In its current form, the settlement would entrust Google with a digital database containing millions of copyright-protected books, including volumes no longer being published. The internet search leader would act as the sales agent for the authors and publishers, giving 63 percent of the revenue to the copyright holders.

Authors and publishers could either set their own prices for their books, or rely on a formula drawn up by Google–a provision that has raised fears of the partnership turning into a price-gouging cartel.

The Justice Department effectively sided with those arguments, saying the settlement could lessen competition among U.S. publishers. The agency also expressed concern that Google would gain a monopoly on so-called “orphan works”–out-of-print books that are still protected by copyright but whose writers’ whereabouts are unknown.

The arrangement “appears to create a dangerous probability that only Google would have the ability to market to libraries and other institutions a comprehensive digital-book subscription,” the department said in its brief.

Hoping to ease those concerns, Google has promised to share its electronic index with its rivals–an idea that has drawn an icy response from Amazon.com, one of the world’s biggest book merchants and the maker of the Kindle, an electronic reader.

Google already has gone into some of the nation’s largest libraries to scan about 6 million out-of-print books into its electronic index. So far, though, it has only been able to show snippets of those digital copies. The settlement would clear the way for Google to sell all those out-of-print books and scan even more into its index.

The project has turned into a crusade for Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who have for years dreamt of making books collecting dust on library book shelves accessible around the clock to anyone with an internet connection.

That ambition has won Google broad support from librarians, disabled rights activists, and big companies like Sony Corp., which wants to tap into the digital book index to feed its own electronic reading device.


Google Books

The Authors Guild

Association of American Publishers

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