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States wade into Google book deal row

Never judge a search giant by its cover

Hostility to Google’s proposed settlement with authors and publishers continues to build across the pond, where five state attorneys general have bemoaned the Books Rights Registry deal.

US state legal advisors from Missouri, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Washington filed briefs this week, according to Market Watch.

Their complaints join a chorus of disapproval levelled at Google, which has come under fire after agreeing a digital books settlement with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers in October last year.

The deal followed a class action copyright infringement lawsuit filed by the two groups - on behalf of all US right holders - in 2005.

Google agreed to pony up $125m to resolve outstanding claims and establish an independent “Books Rights Registry” that would generate revenue for sales and ads to authors and publishers who consent to having their books digitised online.

The attorneys general argue that Google’s plan to use payments when the rights holders can’t be tracked down could be unlawful.

Under the settlement the registry, and not the state treasurer, would keep the proceeds on the author/s or publisher/s behalf while they continue to try and locate those individuals or groups, according to the brief filed jointly by the states.

They allege the unclaimed payments could "constitute a misdemeanor which carries a penalty ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 and up to 12 months imprisonment” because they ignore state unclaimed property laws.

Additionally Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said he was mulling antitrust and copyright concerns that had been raised about the deal.

The legal briefs are the latest in a long line of arguments filed with Judge Denny Chin of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York ahead of a 7 October hearing about the proposed settlement. The court is yet to approve the deal, so submissions both for and against the registry have swelled.

On Wednesday Chin confirmed the court had received around 400 submissions about the proposed settlement. The judge also extended the deadline for submissions again to 21 September due to what he described as the “apparent public interest in the case”.

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

Mountain View wonks have reportedly 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. ®

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