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Google narrows book rights in revised settlement

Google scaled back its ambitious digital book project in a revised legal settlement announced late Friday that would narrow its control over millions of online titles.

The concessions come after heavy scrutiny by the Justice Department, Web competitors and some authors groups who said that the original $125 million agreement with authors and publishers would give Google too much control over pricing in the distribution of book titles and could edge out competitors. They also argued that the deal would allow Google to profit off of the scanning and distribution of books whose authors are unknown, violating copyright laws.

The new settlement was submitted just before midnight to Judge Denny Chin of the U.S. District Court of Southern District of New York, who will ultimately decide whether to approve the deal.

Among several changes, the parties agreed to hand over control of so-called orphan works -- books whose copyright holders are unknown or not found -- to an independent trustee who would administer the licensing of those titles. Previously, Google would have controlled rights to those books.

Under the new agreement, the court must approve the appointed trustee, who would have authority to license those orphan works to other companies, including Google competitors Amazon and Microsoft. The trustee would also handle funds generated from those licenses. If unclaimed for 10 years, those funds would go to charities in the United States, Canada, Australia and Great Britain. After five years, a portion of those proceeds would also go to tracking down the holders of rights to orphan works.

“We’ve made a number of changes to the agreement to address concerns raised, while preserving the core principles of the agreement,” Google and parties in the settlement said in a statement.

The new settlement also included details on Google's algorithm for pricing online books, seeking to allay concerns by the Justice Department's antitrust watchdogs that pricing practices not harm competition and not violate consumers' interests.

The parties also narrowed the international scope of the works to be scanned, including only books that have been cleared by the U.S. Copyright Office. The books are limited to those from the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Australia. The governments of France and Germany had objected to the settlement.

“We’re disappointed that we won’t be able to provide access to as many books from as many countries through the settlement as a result of our modifications,” Google wrote in a blog. “But we look forward to continuing to work with rightsholders from around the world to fulfill our longstanding mission of increasing access to all the world’s books.”

Google and the Authors Guild and the American Association of Publishers changed their $125 million settlement first struck 13 months ago after the Justice Department said it would not approve the deal because of concerns over copyright infringement and antitrust violations.

The Justice Department wasn’t immediately available for comment.

By Cecilia Kang  |  November 14, 2009; 12:49 AM ET
Categories:  Antitrust , Google  
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The whole thing is a scam.

If they would limit copyright to 24 years as originally intended, there would be no need for this deal in the first place.

Society as a whole would be much richer if creative works were not given effectively 150 years of copyright protection. The only people who would suffer are the big media companies who effectively get a copyright "tax" on us forever for reprinting the same thing over and over again.

This deal (and many others like it that you don't see) are a symptom of a problem, and it's not with Google. It's with a congress that seems determined to give away our culture to large corporations simply because those corporations donate a lot of congress.

You should be outraged, but as long as you get your Hulu for free, you seem satisfied.

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | November 14, 2009 7:05 AM | Report abuse

I couldn't agree more with the commentor about 24 years being plenty of time. We are sacrificing our culture to simple minded corporatism.
Too many Americans look like domesticated animals mooing before the trough of corporate culture and their hopelessly substandard creative endeavours.

Posted by: citizen625 | November 14, 2009 8:21 AM | Report abuse

Many people I know think I have a radical view of copyright law, but ideally, copyrights and patents should be abolished altogether. Creativity and innovation would be maximized, as authors would spend more time creating new works rather than pursuing legal action against violators of copyright; furthermore, there are already enough acceptable business practices that achieve the same ends as copyright without harming innovation so much.
That said, if there must be copyright (and the Constitution says that Congress can provide copyright protection IF IT WANTS, but this is not necessary), it should be as specified by the Copyright Act (I'm not sure if this is the actual name) of 1790. The term should be 14 years, once renewable for a total of 28 years (if so desired).
What made me vomit was reading Sonny Bono's wife's testimony for signing into law the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (increasing the previous term to life + 70 years). She claimed that she would have liked an indefinite copyright, but (paraphrasing here) "technically the Constitution doesn't allow that."
Ombudsman1, I really am outraged. The problem is, copyright law looks too dry on the surface to get other people outraged.

Posted by: pshanth | November 14, 2009 11:25 AM | Report abuse

One more thing:
The MPAA recently shut down an ENTIRE TOWN's wifi because ONE PERSON decided to illegally download ONE MOVIE.
Why does this not strike anyone else as patently ridiculous? If I remember right, they gave the town back their wifi (oh, the irony), but instead of apologizing for going too far, they cried foul and poor over the fact that a single illegal download would significantly adversely affect all of Hollywood.

Posted by: pshanth | November 14, 2009 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Google reminds me of the old Twilight Zone episode "How to Serve Man"

If you don't know about it google it.

Posted by: kkrimmer | November 14, 2009 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Google should already be fined millions, if not billions, for the unprecedented massive copyright violation it has committed by scanning hundreds of thousands of books without the permission of the authors or copyright holders. To allow it to distribute those works without first paying an appropriate penalty would be rewarding this criminal activity.

Posted by: squirma | November 14, 2009 1:19 PM | Report abuse

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