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Google fights for orphaned books

By Joab Jackson
February 19, 2010 12:14 AM ET

IDG News Service - Fending criticisms from multiple parties, Google once again made the case for digitizing millions of orphaned books before the U.S. District Court Southern District Court of New York, in a fairness hearing held Thursday.

A total of 27 different parties requested to speak before the court. Five were in favor, including Sony, the National Federation of the Blind and the Center for Democracy and Technology. The rest -- 22 in total -- opposed the settlement, including Amazon, Microsoft, the Open Book Alliance, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Those in favor praised the idea of rendering hard-to-find books in electronic form, because they could be accessible to a much larger group of readers, and not be lost to the ages.

The objectors, however, voiced strong concerns that the settlement case preempts U.S. copyright law altogether. Others voiced privacy and antitrust concerns.

The court will decide whether or not approve a proposed settlement to a class action suit waged by a number of author groups towards Google, for its actions of scanning out-of-print books.

U.S. District Judge Denny Chin, presiding over the proceedings, said that he would not reach a decision at the end of that day's fairness hearing, given the amount of feedback the court received.

The settlement, reached in October 2008, came out of a 2005 lawsuit brought about by the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers and other groups of concerned writers and content producers.

The groups expressed outrage that Google was scanning millions of books, an act which they felt violated U.S. fair use rights. The company was planning to offer snippets of the books as part of their search results.

The resulting settlement allows Google to scan books that are still in copyright yet are out of print, provided that it sets up a registry of authors and book titles, and makes an effort to notify authors of these books that their works are being reused.

In exchange, the company can then offer snippets or even fully downloadable versions of the books for a fee, from which they would pay the authors a percentage of the profits. Authors would be free to opt out of the program.

Reacting to U.S. Department of Justice antitrust concerns, the parties revised the settlement and resubmitted it to the court in November, narrowing the scope of the agreement to U.S. books.

Despite the revisions, the Justice Department voiced concerns. Deputy Assistant Attorney General William Cavanaugh, who argued the settlement's opt-out approach preempts copyright law insofar that copyright law grants the copyright holders full control over how their works can be published.

Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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