Google, authors and publishers get a month to fix settlement

The judge wants the modified settlement agreement to be filed no later than Nov. 9

Google, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) have been given one more month to rework their agreement to settle copyright infringement lawsuits that the author and publisher groups filed against the search company.

At a status hearing on Wednesday, Judge Denny Chin told the parties they have until Nov. 9 to submit a revised agreement, which in its current form was panned by the U.S. Department of Justice and other critics.

The original agreement, filed a year ago, drew an outcry from well-known authors, publishers, academics and competitors who felt that it gives Google too much power to set book prices. Critics also fretted over the way the plan would handle "orphan works," which are copyright books whose authors have died or their publishing houses disappeared.

As opponents flooded the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York with objections, Google, the Authors Guild and the AAP staunchly defended their proposed agreement, but finally backed down when the DOJ also came out against it.

In a filing with the court last month, the DOJ said the proposed agreement should be revised so that it complies with U.S. copyright and antitrust laws, and with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, which governs approvals of settlements of class action lawsuits.

Days later, Google, the Authors Guild and the AAP asked the judge to postpone the final "fairness hearing," scheduled for today, so that they could modify the agreementto address the DOJ's concerns.

The judge granted the request and changed the nature of today's hearing to one of a procedural nature to discuss the status of the case and set new deadlines.

"We appreciate the Court's guidance and look forward to moving ahead. As we've said in the past and in the hearing today, we are considering a limited number of amendments to the agreement," a Google spokeswoman said via e-mail on Wednesday.

"If approved by the Court, the settlement stands to unlock access to millions of books in the U.S. while giving authors and publishers new ways to distribute their work," she added.

The litigation began in 2005, when book authors and the Authors Guild filed a class-action lawsuit, while five large publishers filed a separate lawsuit as representatives of the AAP's membership.

The lawsuits allege that Google has committed massive copyright violations through its program to scan hundreds of thousands of books from major libraries without always getting permission from copyright owners.

Google contends that its practice is protected by the "fair use" principle because its books search engine only shows short text excerpts of books protected by copyright that the company has scanned without permission.

In the original settlement proposal -- a long, complicated and wide-ranging document -- Google agreed to shell out US$125 million, while the authors and publishers allowed the search company to display longer passages of in-copyright books.

The agreement also gave Google rights to let people and institutions buy online access to the books, while setting up a royalty system to compensate authors and publishers through the establishment of a Book Rights Registry.

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Juan Carlos Perez

IDG News Service
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