Judge sets schedule for Google book search case

The final hearing on the controversial settlement proposal will be in mid-February

The judge in the copyright infringement case pitting the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) against Google and its book search program has set a date for the final hearing on the parties' controversial settlement proposal.

Judge Denny Chin from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has scheduled the "final fairness hearing" for Feb. 18, 2010 at 10 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time. As expected, the judge also granted preliminary approval to the proposed class-action settlement, according to an order he issued on Thursday.

The judge also instructed the parties to disseminate via various possible methods, like regular mail, e-mail and online postings, a notice alerting all class members that the original settlement proposal has been modified.

The period for disseminating the notice, for observers to file opposing and supporting briefs and for class members opt out of the proposal will be between Dec. 14 of this year and Jan. 28, 2010.

According to the schedule, those wishing to participate in the final hearing have to file a request with the court no later than Feb. 4, while the plaintiffs will have to move for final approval of the settlement on Feb. 11, 2010.

The litigation between the parties began in 2005, when the Authors Guild and the AAP filed separate lawsuits against Google that charged the search company with engaging in massive copyright infringement through its program to digitize millions of library books without always obtaining permission from copyright owners.

In October 2008, the parties drafted a proposed settlement that drew sharp criticism from a range of academics, competitors, authors and publishers concerned that the deal would give Google too much power over book prices.

Some also worried about the agreement's handling of orphan works, which are books whose copyright owners can't be found.

In September of this year, the U.S. Department of Justice joined in with the critics, raising concerns about the copyright and antitrust legality of the proposed settlement and recommending that the judge reject it.

The DOJ's opposition prompted the parties to ask the judge for more time to rework the settlement, whose revised version was filed with the court last week.

The DOJ hasn't commented publicly about the revised proposal, but other high profile critics, like the Open Book Alliance, are still unhappy, saying the changes don't address what they perceive as fundamental flaws.

A DOJ spokeswoman didn't immediately reply to a request for comment about the schedule set by the judge.

The revised proposal narrowed the scope of the settlement to books that were either registered with the U.S. Copyright Office or published in the U.K., Australia, or Canada. It also modifies to an extent the charter and operations of the Book Rights Registry that would be established to manage royalty payments.

For example, the Registry will be able to license to other parties without extending the same terms to Google.

The revision also gives explicit permission to any book retailer to sell online access to the settlement's out of print books.

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