Google, Plaintiffs Blow Book Search Settlement Deadline

Google, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) need more time to revise the proposed settlement of the copyright infringement lawsuits the author and publisher organizations brought against Google over its Book Search program.

Google and the plaintiffs were supposed to file the revised agreement with the court on Monday, but instead they have asked the judge to give them until the end of the week.

Google, the Authors Guild and the AAP have been "working diligently" on the revised agreement and expect to have it ready "no later" than this Friday, wrote Authors Guild attorney Michael Boni in a letter to the judge on behalf of all parties. The brief letter doesn't address why Google and the plaintiffs couldn't complete the revision in time for today's deadline.

Judge Denny Chin from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has approved the request to push back the deadline.

Google, the Authors Guild and the AAP hammered out an agreement in October 2008 to settle lawsuits the plaintiffs filed against the search company in 2005.

Rivals Object

But that proposed settlement came under fire from the beginning, as critics charged that it would give Google too much power over book prices and worried over how the plan would handle "orphan works," or books whose copyright owners can't be found.

Although Google and the plaintiffs defended the agreement, the U.S. Department of Justice gave the agreement the coup de grce in September by raising concerns about its copyright and antitrust legality and recommending the judge not approve it in its current form.

Google and the plaintiffs didn't fight the DOJ's objections, and instead asked the judge to postpone the final fairness hearing and to give them a chance to go back to the drawing board. The judge agreed and set today as the deadline for filing the revised settlement proposal.

In Monday's letter, Boni said that Google, the Authors Guild and the AAP have been in discussions with the DOJ throughout the revision process, and as recently as last Friday.

Authors Challenge Plan

In 2005, 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.

Both lawsuits challenged Google's Book Search program, specifically the company's scanning of hundreds of thousands of books from major libraries without always securing permission from copyright owners.

Google's defense was that its actions are protected by the "fair use" principle because it only shows short snippets in its search results of copyright books it scanned without permission.

The original settlement agreement called for Google to pay US$125 million and in exchange get permission to display longer portions of in-copyright books.

Google would also have gotten the right to let people and institutions buy online access to the digitized books. The agreement also stipulated the establishment of a Book Rights Registry to manage a royalty system to compensate authors and publishers from the sale of digitized books.

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