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Justice Dept. says Google books settlement shouldn't be approved

The Justice Department told a federal court Thursday that a revised digital books settlement between Google and publishers and authors still falls short and should not be approved in its current form.

The government's comments were filed to the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York, which will hold a hearing on the settlement Feb. 18.

In its filing, the Justice Department told the court that the revised agreement overstepped legal boundaries and was still "a bridge too far."

Although changes to the settlement are an improvement, the Justice Department said the revised deal "suffers from the same core problem as the original agreement: it is an attempt to use the class-action mechanism to implement forward-looking business arrangements that go far beyond the dispute before the court in this litigation."

The government's concerns include how Google's arrangement with its partners could violate copyright protections and give Google too much power over the rights to scan and sell copies of millions of so-called orphan works -- books whose authors are unknown or can't be found.

The comments could further stall Google's ambitious digital books project, which has been criticized by some authors, library groups and competitors--including Microsoft, Amazon and Yahoo--for unfairly advantaging one company. Google would have exclusive rights and legal protection from parties that try to sue for copyright infringement under the settlement that was revised last November.

Gabriel Stricker, a Google spokesman, said the Justice Department’s filing “recognizes the progress made with the revised settlement, and it once again reinforces the value the agreement can provide in unlocking access to millions of books in the U.S.” He said that Google looked forward to the court’s review of the department’s views and those of the deal’s supporters.

Contributions by Associated Press

By Cecilia Kang  |  February 4, 2010; 10:46 PM ET
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