February 5, 2010 3:07 am

US DoJ dissatisfied with Google book deal

The US Department of Justice on Thursday said it was still not satisfied with an agreement on digitising books made between Google, authors and publishers, despite “substantial progress” on amendments to the settlement.

The DoJ’s influential opinion was filed in a New York federal court, where Judge Denny Chin will hold a hearing about the settlement on February 18.

Google’s plan to digitise the contents of several US libraries led to a copyright infringement case being brought by the Authors Guild and five major publishers in 2005. They reached a settlement in October 2008 and amended it in November in the face of continued objections from the DoJ and others, including Microsoft and Amazon, that Google could still gain a monopoly position in digital books.

The DoJ said on Thursday that copyright and antitrust issues remained.

“The amended settlement agreement suffers from the same core problem as the original agreement,” it added.

“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 department said it remained committed to working with the parties to help them come up with a solution where copyright holders could allow the digital use of their works by Google and others.

In September, it had proposed changes to the original agreement including making it less open-ended, providing additional protection to unknown rightsholders, addressing the concerns of foreign authors and publishers and providing a mechanism that gave Google’s competitors comparable access to the books concerned.

On Thursday, it said substantial progress had been made in eliminating certain open-ended provisions, protecting rightsholders of unclaimed work and reducing the number of foreign works covered by the agreement.

But the settlement could still leave Google as the only competitor in the digital marketplace with the rights to distribute and exploit “a vast array of works in multiple formats”, it said.

Consumer Watchdog, the consumer group, welcomed the DoJ’s objections to the deal.

“Google offered only minimal amendments to its original flawed deal and the key problems remain,” said John Simpson, a spokesman.

“The DoJ filing and the outpouring of other briefs from around the world opposing the amended settlement make it almost certain [Judge Chin] will reject the deal.”

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