A New York judge has put Google’s vision of creating the world’s biggest digital library on hold.
Judge Denny Chin postponed a fairness hearing set for next month that
was meant to address a settlement between Google and authors and
The $125 million agreement, worked out last year, has effectively been sent back to the drawing board by the judge.
The class action case would let Google distribute and sell digital versions of out of print, copyrighted books.
It has been criticised because some say it would give Google too much power to set book prices.
Judge Chin’s decision comes after the American Association of
Publishers and the Authors Guild asked the court to delay the final
fairness hearing on the proposed agreement, which needs court approval
to go ahead.
The move follows objections filed by the Department of Justice last
week. It said the deal should not go through in its current form.
In a 32-page filing, the DOJ said the settlement needed to be reworked
so that it complied with US copyright and antitrust laws.
It was revealed earlier this week that publishers,
authors and Google have been working to modify the agreement, which was
completed last year.
"Under all the circumstances, it makes no sense to
conduct a hearing on the fairness and reasonableness of the current
settlement agreement, as it does not appear that the current settlement
will be the operative one," Judge Chin wrote.
He noted that objectors to the settlement include
"countries, states, non-profit organisations, and prominent authors and
"Clearly, fair concerns have been raised. It would
appear that if a fair and reasonable settlement can be struck, the
public would benefit," said Judge Chin.
In 2001, book authors and the Authors Guild filed a class-action
lawsuit, as did publishers, alleging that Google had violated copyright
laws by scanning books from the libraries of major universities without
always getting permission from the copyright owners of the books.
Google claimed at the time it was protected by the
"fair use" principle because its book search engine showed only short
snippets of text for the books it had scanned without permission.
Microsoft, Amazon and Yahoo have filed objections to
the settlement with the court, along with the French and German
governments, privacy advocates and consumer watchdog groups.
"Clearly voices such as ours had an impact on Judge
Chin," wrote consumer watchdog advocate John Simpson in an email to BBC
"There was no way the proposed settlement could go
forward. We believe that the proper place to solve many of the case’s
thorniest problems, such as that of orphan books, is in Congress
because it is important to build digital libraries."
Orphan books – of which there are thought to be five million – are titles where the authors cannot be found.
Judge Chin has called for a "status conference" to be held on 7 October
– the original date for the hearing – to determine "how to proceed with
the case as expeditiously as possible".