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Authors ask court to delay Googlebooks hearing

'The settlement, as we know it, is dead'

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Updated US authors and publishers have asked a federal court to postpone an upcoming hearing set to examine its $125m book-scanning settlement with Google, requesting additional time to address Justice Department concerns over the pact.

On Friday, the Department of Justice urged the court to reject the pact as written, citing concerns over class action, copyright, and antitrust law. Google was already in talks with its fellow parties in the settlement, working to amend the agreement, and today, the plaintiffs filed a motion to postpone the fairness hearing scheduled for October 7.

"It is because the parties wish to work with the DOJ to the fullest extent possible that they have engaged, and plan to continue to engage, in negotiations in an effort to address and resolve the concerns expressed in the [DoJ filing]," reads a separate memo to the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

"The parties are committed to rapidly advancing the discussions with the DOJ. Nevertheless, it is clear that the complex issues raised [by the DOJ] preclude submission of an amended settlement agreement by October 7."

The memo also says that Google agreed that the plaintiffs could say that Google does not opposed the motion.

Last fall, Google settled a lawsuit from the US Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers over Google Book Search, a project that seeks to digitize texts inside various research libraries. As of October, the web giant had scanned more than 10 million books, many still under copyright. The deal creates a "Book Rights Registry" where copyright holders can resolve claims in exchange for a cut of Google's revenues.

But the pact also gives the web giant a unique right to digitize and sell and post ads against "orphan works," titles whose rights holders have yet to come forward. Other organizations could negotiate the rights to works in the Registry, but the Registry alone would have the power to set prices.

In Friday's filing, the DoJ proposed several changes to the pact, including new protections for unknown rights holders and ways for allowing Google competitors to gain Google-like access to the settlement.

The Open Content Alliance - a group of organizations that oppose the project, including Amazon, Microsoft, and the Internet Archive - views today's news an important win.

"This is a huge victory for the many people and organizations who raised significant concerns that this settlement did not serve the public interest, stifled innovation, and restricted competition," reads a statement from the group. "It’s also an enormous loss for Google, which had been saying for months that no changes were necessary to the settlement. Now, that settlement, as we know it, is dead."

An amended settlement may still go through. But the delay also gives the rest of the world additional time to see other solutions to the ebook copyright problem.

"Any additional time spent on the settlement is going to be time well spent by everyone affected," the Internet Archive's Peter Brantley, the Alliance's primary spokesman, tells The Reg. "It gives people more time to consider alternatives, not only within the settlement but externally."

Brantley and the Alliance have long called for federal legislation that would settle copyright matters for all book scanners - as opposed to a private civil suit settlement that settles matters for a single company. "There is an opportunity now to engage Congress and start to discuss what kind of orphan works legislation and copyright reform to move us all forward in the manner that our laws suggest that we do - so through legislative action rather than private court action," Brantley says.

Google has not yet responded to a request for comment. In the past, it has said it's not opposed to federal legislation. ®

Update: This story has been updated to show that the filing for the delay in the court hearing was made by lawyers representing the authors and publishers, not by Google itself.

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