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Justice Department Urges Judge To reject Google’s Digital Book Settlement

By LOS ANGELES TIMES

Sat, Sep 19, 2009 at 11:48 am

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Officials
cite concerns that the agreement with authors and publishers could run
afoul of antitrust and copyright laws. But they also propose
modifications to make the settlement pass muster.

The Justice Department late Friday urged a federal judge to reject a
controversial settlement between Google Inc., the Authors Guild and the
American Assn. of Publishers, citing concerns that the agreement could
run afoul of antitrust, class action and copyright laws.

At the
same time, Justice officials proposed modifications that would make the
settlement pass muster, saying the proposal should not be entirely
derailed because it has "potential for important societal benefits."

Google
said that it was "considering the points raised by the department" and
that it looked forward "to addressing them as the court proceedings
continue."

The issue concerns an ambitious project that Google
launched in 2004 to scan millions of books and make their contents
searchable online. In 2006, the Authors Guild and the publishers filed
lawsuits, claiming copyright violation.

They settled a year
ago, agreeing to create an independent body to collect 67% of the
revenue generated by selling access to the digital collection created
by Google and distribute the money to authors and publishers.

A
hearing before Federal District Court Judge Denny Chin has been
scheduled for Oct. 7 to determine whether the pact should be approved.

In
recent months, many groups have voiced concerns over whether the
agreement would give Google too much pricing power and whether the
Mountain View, Calif., company would adequately safeguard reader
privacy.

Consumer Watchdog praised the move by Justice
officials. "This is a victory for consumers and the broader public
interest," said a group advocate, John Simpson.

Because the
Justice Department is not a party in the case, it has limited influence
in whether the settlement is ultimately approved by the court.

Rather,
the brief foreshadows what, if any, regulatory actions the department
might take should the settlement receive Judge Chin’s blessing.

"The
brief is urging the judge against approving it outright or rejecting it
outright," said James Grimmelmann, a professor at New York Law School.
"The overall message from Justice is that there are a lot of good
things in this settlement. It doesn’t work in its current form, but
it’s fixable."

Contact the author at: alex.pham@latimes.com

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