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Google talks book deal edits with DoJ

Cutting 'cartel' concerns

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Google is in talks with the US Department of Justice over possible changes to its controversial Book Search settlement.

As the $125m library-scanning settlement awaits court approval, the DoJ is known to be investigating the deal. And according to anonymous sources speaking with Bloomberg, Google has teamed up with the US authors and publishers on the other side of the pact in an effort to alleviate the DoJ's concerns that it would hamper competition in the fledgling ebook market.

In October, Google settled a three-year-old lawsuit from the US Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers over its Book Search, which seeks to digitize works inside many of the world's leading research libraries. The settlement creates a "Book Rights Registry" where authors and publishers can resolve copyright claims in exchange for a predefined cut of Google's revenues.

But the pact also give Google a unique license to digitize, sell, and post ads against so-called "orphan works", which are out-of-print titles whose rights holders have yet to come forward. And many are concerned that the Registry - a single entity - will control the prices on all claimed works.

"There is very little incentive for the BRR to engender competition for vending alternative access to the books because it would drive prices downwards, thus diminishing returns to registered rights holders," argues the Internet Archive's Peter Brantley, who heads the Open Book Alliance, a group of organizations that opposes the deal. Amazon, another member, has dubbed the BRR a "cartel."

Apparently, the DoJ has similar concerns over the pact. And Google it working to change that.

The settlement is set for a fairness hearing on October 7. Yesterday, federal judge Denny Chin called on Google and the settlement's other parties to respond to the roughly 400 court filings from interested parties over the pact. Responses are due by October 2. The DoJ is slated to speak at the hearing five days later. ®

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