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Google submits revised digital book settlement to US judge

By AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE (AFP)

Sat, Nov 14, 2009 at 4:25 pm

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Google and US authors and publishers submitted a revised settlement to a US judge Friday seeking approval of an agreement that would clear the way for millions of books to be sold online.

The modified settlement, which runs nearly 370 pages, seeks to address copyright and anti-trust objections raised by the Department of Justice and others to the original version of the complicated legal agreement.

Google and the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers reached the settlement last year to a copyright infringement suit they filed against the Mountain View, California, company in 2005.

Under the settlement, Google agreed to pay 125 million dollars to resolve outstanding claims and establish an independent "Book Rights Registry," which would provide revenue from sales and advertising to authors and publishers who agree to digitize their books.

The Justice Department said the book-scanning project "has the potential to breathe life into millions of works that are now effectively off limits" but objected to the original settlement on copyright and anti-trust grounds.

One of its concerns was that the settlement, as originally drafted, would give Google sole authority over so-called "orphan works" — out-of-print books whose copyright holders cannot be found — and books by foreign rights holders.

The department recommended providing additional protections for unknown rights holders and addressing the concerns of foreign authors and publishers.

It also proposed setting up a mechanism by which Google’s competitors can gain comparable access to book collections.

The revised settlement narrows the definition of books covered under the settlement to those registered with the US Copyright Office by January 5 or published in Australia, Britain, Canada or the United States.

It also sets up an independent body, or fiduciary, which will be responsible for the interests of the rightsholders of "orphan works."

Unclaimed proceeds from orphan works would be used to try to locate rightsholders and be held for at least 10 years before being distributed to "literacy-based charities in the United States, Canada, the UK and Australia."

Rival technology companies, privacy advocates, consumer watchdog groups and the French and German governments are among those who filed objections to the original settlement with the US District Court in New York hearing the case.

The revised settlement was denounced by the Open Book Alliance, a group which includes Google rivals Microsoft, Yahoo! and Amazon, the online retail giant which offers 360,000 books for sale for its Kindle electronic reader.

"Our initial review of the new proposal tells us that Google and its partners are performing a sleight of hand; fundamentally, this settlement remains a set-piece designed to serve the private commercial interests of Google and its partners," said Open Book Alliance co-chair Peter Brantley.

"None of the proposed changes appear to address the fundamental flaws illuminated by the Department of Justice and other critics that impact public interest," he said in a statement.

Brantley said Google, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers were "attempting to distract people from their continued efforts to establish a monopoly over digital content access and distribution."

Google and the US authors and publishers had been scheduled to submit the revised settlement to Judge Denny Chin on Monday but they requested that the deadline be extended until Friday.

Judge Chin is expected to hold a so-called "fairness hearing" in February on whether or not to approve the settlement.

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