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Google Book Search Settlement Review Extended

In October, Google announced the settlement of a three year copyright battle over its practices of scanning and displaying books at Google Book Search. 

With high level soundbytes, the deal was billed as an achievement.  Richard Sarnoff, Chairman of the Association of American Publishers, characterized it as a “win for everyone.”  All that was necessary to go forward was court approval and that was considered a formality scheduled for May 5th.   Turns out, that timetable was a little optimistic.

On Tuesday, responding to objections made by a number of authors, Judge Denny Chin of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York extended the settlement’s review period until September 4th and scheduled a final fairness hearing for October 7th, 2009.

The authors had expressed concern that the original schedule didn’t provide enough time to review the complex settlement’s terms.  They requested six more months.   Google and the Author’s Guild, the core parties of the settlement, thought a sixty day extension should be enough.  The judge split the difference.

Since the settlement was first announced, a number of concerns have been raised regarding Google’s  control of content (access, pricing etc) under the deal, and how the settlement handles copyrighted works whose authors can’t be located (so called “orphaned” works).  Some have essentially called the 385 page agreement an end run around author’s rights (view one op-ed piece here).

Within days of the original settlement, the library director at Harvard went public with concerns the settlement provided too many limitations on access (Harvard had said in the past that they believed Google’s book search practices were compliant with copyright law.  The objections regarded the terms of the settlement, not Google’s original actions).  

 The Wall Street Journal has also reported recently that the Department of Justice may be looking at possible antitrust issues resulting from similar  issues created by the settlement.

The extension by the court will provide all of the concerned parties with more time to find comfort with the arrangement, or formally raise any objections.

(A copy of the original settlement agreement is available here for review.)

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