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Department of Justice objects to revised Google Books settlement

February 4, 2010 |  3:58 pm
Bookshelf
Credit: David Sarno / Los Angeles Times

In a brief filed late Thursday, the Department of Justice said it still had objections to the lawsuit settlement between Google and a group of authors and publishers, despite changes made to the settlement by the parties.

"At this time, in the view of the United States, the public interest would best be served by
direction from the Court encouraging the continuation of settlement discussions between the
parties," the brief said.

The Justice Department cited issues with copyright and judicial process in its reservations about the settlement. Though it complimented the parties on the progress of the latest draft of the settlement, the brief said that the agreement was still "an attempt to use the class action mechanism to implement forward-looking business arrangements that go far beyond the dispute before the Court."

U.S. District Judge Denny Chin delayed ruling on the settlement in September after Google and the plaintiffs requested an extension to address similar Justice Department objections at that time.

That brief called the agreement "one of the most far-reaching class-action settlements of which the United States is aware," and warned the court not to act hastily given the complexity and import of the issues.  Still, the Justice Department also pointed to the "public benefit" of a huge database of online books.

The long-running case has run into objections from many quarters, including various authors groups, consumer advocacy organizations, scholars and competitors

Last summer, online book retailer Amazon.com Inc. joined with Google rivals Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. in a coalition assembled by the Internet Archive to oppose the settlement.

Amazon later filed its own brief against the settlement, calling it "an unprecedented
rewriting of copyright law through judicial action."

The case began in 2005, when the Authors Guild and the Assn. of American Publishers filed separate lawsuits against Google, saying the company's mass scanning of library books violated copyright laws.

The three parties settled the suits in October 2008 with an agreement that would allow Google to scan the copyrighted books and eventually sell the digitized contents to consumers, either as individual books or through all-you-can-read subscriptions. Google would keep 37% of the revenue, while authors and publishers who had joined the settlement would split the remaining 63%.

A fairness hearing on the settlement is scheduled for Feb. 18.

-- David Sarno

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