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Fairness Hearing Postponed For Google Books Deal

By ASSOCIATED PRESS

Thu, Sep 24, 2009 at 9:33 am

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NEW YORK, NY — A judge noted the many objections to a $125 million deal
giving Google Inc. digital rights to millions of out-of-print books as
he agreed Thursday to postpone a fairness hearing so the agreement can
be rewritten to comply with copyright and antitrust laws.

U.S.
District Judge Denny Chin said the deal reached last year between U.S.
authors and publishers and Google "raises significant issues, as
demonstrated not only by the number of objections, but also by the fact
that the objectors include countries, states, nonprofit organizations,
and prominent authors and law professors."

He added: "Clearly, fair concerns have been raised."

Chin
encouraged the parties to revise the settlement as quickly as possible,
saying a fair deal "would offer many benefits to society." He cited a
statement by the Department of Justice saying an agreement "has the
potential to breathe life into millions of works that are now
effectively off limits to the public."

In a statement, Google
highlighted Chin’s words of encouragement and reiterated its belief
that a court-approved settlement would "unlock access to millions of
books in the U.S. while giving authors and publishers new ways to
distribute their work."

The comments in Chin’s two-page order
indicated the judge had taken a critical look at the settlement after
receiving nearly 400 submissions about the deal, many of them
expressing disapproval.

The Department of Justice said last week
that the agreement as it now stands probably violates antitrust law.
That conclusion led plaintiffs including The Authors Guild and the
Association of American Publishers to say that they and Mountain View,
Calif.-based Google had decided to renegotiate.

This time, the plaintiffs said, negotiations will include Justice Department officials.

The
judge said it made no sense to stage the fairness hearing on Oct. 7
when it appears that the deal will be rewritten. He asked parties to
the case to appear on that date to discuss how it will proceed but said
he will not hear from objectors or supporters, though they are free to
attend.

In a statement on its Web site acknowledging the
postponement, The Authors Guild said: "We’ll continue to work on
amending the settlement to address the Justice Department’s concerns."

John
M. Simpson, a consumer advocate with Consumer Watchdog who testified
about the deal before the House Judiciary Committee, said any agreement
should also involve input from Congress.

He said the agreement as it now stands would have given Google a monopoly over the digitizing of books.

"The judge put his fingers exactly on the issues in the case," Simpson said.

AP Technology Writer Michael Liedtke in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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