Google gets a month to fix books settlement

Judge orders revised agreement to be submitted next month

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 last Wednesday, Judge Denny Chin told the parties they have until November 9 to submit a revised agreement, which in its current form was panned by the US 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 US 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 US 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 agreement to 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 email.

"If approved by the Court, the settlement stands to unlock access to millions of books in the US 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 programme 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.

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