Google books hearing set for February 18

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The Independent Culture

A US judge set February 18 for a hearing on the revised legal settlement between Google and US authors and publishers that would allow the Internet giant to scan and sell millions of books online.

Judge Denny Chin also granted preliminary approval to the agreement in a move welcomed by Google but which opponents said was procedural and had no bearing on whether he will give a green light to the settlement in February.

Chin on Thursday also set January 28 as the date for groups to lodge objections to the class action settlement with his Southern District of New York court.

The US Justice Department, whose reservations about the original agreement forced the parties to go back to the drawing board, has until February 4 to make its views known.

Google and the authors and publishers submitted a revised settlement to Chin last week which seeks to address the copyright and anti-trust concerns raised by the Justice Department and others to the original 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.

Amid objections from France, Germany and others, the revised deal narrowed the definition of books covered under the settlement to those registered with the US Copyright Office by January 5, 2009 or published in Australia, Britain, Canada or the United States.

The modified settlement also sought to address charges that Google would have sole authority over so-called "orphan works" - out-of-print books whose copyright holders cannot be found.

It sets up an independent body which would be used to try to locate rightsholders and look after their interests.

Rival technology companies, privacy advocates, consumer watchdog groups and the French and German governments are among those who filed objections to the original settlement and the revised agreement has also come under fire.

Gary Reback, co-chair of the Open Book Alliance, which includes Google rivals Microsoft, Yahoo! and Amazon and the non-profit Internet Archive, which maintains a digital library of websites and has its own book scanning project, said the deal still contains "fundamental flaws."

"Despite Google's effort to spin this deal, it does nothing to promote competition nor does it reform Google's exclusive access and monopoly hold on this digital database of books," said Reback, a Silicon Valley anti-trust lawyer. "This deal remains rife with anti-trust, class action and copyright violations."

Gabriel Stricker, a Google spokesman, welcomed Judge Chin's preliminary approval of the revised agreement.

"The preliminary approval order sends a positive initial message; this agreement promises to benefit readers and researchers, and enhance the ability of authors and publishers to distribute their content in digital form," he said in a statement.

"We remain hopeful that the agreement will receive final approval from the court and will realize the goal of significantly expanding online access to works through Google Book Search, an ambitious effort to make millions of books searchable via the Web."

The Open Book Alliance played it down as an "expected procedural move" and noted that preliminary approval had also been granted to the original version of the settlement.

"This is not a surprising development and is not any indication that the court will or will not accept the terms of Settlement 2.0," it said.