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Justice may not find new Google book deal adequate: Sources

Google has moved a step forward in its controversial digital books project with revisions made last Friday in its settlement with two authors and publishers group. A narrower agreement was drawn to mollify concerns of federal regulators. But a final deal that would let Google begin to access and distribute millions of out-of-print titles will still have to clear significant hurdles, according to sources with knowledge of the parties' and Justice's thinking.

Please take a look at this story for the paper yesterday on what the move says about the high-tech industry's engagement with Washington. This post will give you some of the nuts of bolts of the settlement.

The federal judge reviewing the settlement, Judge Denny Chin of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York, is expected to soon accept public comments on the revised settlement over rights to millions of digital titles. Then the Justice Department is expected to weigh in, probably after several weeks, experts estimate.

The new settlement addressed several of the concerns raised by Justice two months ago, an expert familiar with the issues concerning Justice and the parties said. But the agency may not find revisions submitted to Chin late Friday adequate. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity because the federal review of the settlement is ongoing.

The biggest sticking point will be over Google's rights to access and print orphan works, books whose authors are unknown or unable to track down. The settlement would protect Google from lawsuits related to orphan works, essentially giving the company exclusive protection. Justice raised concerns over that point in the original $125 million settlement in 2008 between Google and the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild. The agency said a clause to legally shield Google from copyright suits by authors or rights holders to orphan works would be anticompetitive. It could give the company and unfair edge over other firms (like Amazon or other e-commerce firms) who are jockeying with Google for share of in the burgeoning digital books market.

"By performing surgical nip and tuck, Google, the AAP and the AG are attempting to distract people from their continued efforts to establish a monopoly over digital content access and distribution," Peter Brantley, co-founder of opposition group Open Book Alliance. The group includes Microsoft, Amazon, the Internet Archive and library groups and was co-founded by antitrust attorney Gary Reback.

Justice Department spokeswoman Gina Talamona said in a statement only that the investigation is ongoing and that "a properly structured settlement agreement offers the potential for important societal benefits."

Post Tech will be on C Span's Book TV this Saturday early evening to talk about Google's digital book ambitions, the history of the settlement and where things will likely move going forward.

By Cecilia Kang  |  November 16, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Antitrust , DOJ , Google  
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Comments

My favorite book of all time is "The Marshall" by Denis St. Pierre. I think 200 were ever printed. Now that I manufacture and distribute Astak eBook Readers (www.theEZreader.com)I would love to see this treasured book in EPUB format.

I have never seen a better plot and the writing is incredible. So, I would applaud Google for saving these orphan works and other works that ARE out-of-print. We are losing a bit of our heritage every day as these books deteriorate. I do not care if Google makes money or gains exclusivity. I am more interested in saving good books for posterity!

Posted by: EZReader1 | November 17, 2009 1:02 PM | Report abuse

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