Federal judge rejects Google Books settlement

[JURIST] The US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] on Tuesday rejected [opinion, PDF] the amended class action settlement agreement [text, PDF] between Google [corporate website] and groups of authors and publishers who brought a copyright suit [case materials] in 2005 against the internet giant over its book-scanning initiative [Google Book Search website]. The settlement was reached after over two years of negotiations between Google and the Authors Guild [advocacy website], a group seeking to preserve copyright protection for authors, and other plaintiffs including the Association of American Publishers (AAP) [association website], McGraw-Hill, Penguin Group, and Simon & Schuster [corporate websites]. Under the terms of the original settlement agreement, Google would pay $125 million to authors and publishers of copyrighted works. In return, Google would be allowed to display online up to 20 percent of the total pages of a copyrighted book, and would offer users an opportunity to purchase the remainder of any viewed book, regardless of whether Google actually had rights to the material. Judge Denny Chin [biographical materials] wrote in his opinion:

While the digitization of books and the creation of a universal digital library would benefit many, the ASA (Amended Settlement Agreement) would simply go too far. It would permit this class action - which was brought against defendant Google Inc. to challenge its scanning of books and display of "snippets"; for on-line searching - to implement a forward-looking business arrangement that would grant Google significant rights to exploit entire books, without permission of the copyright owners. Indeed, the ASA would give Google a significant advantage over competitors, rewarding it for engaging in wholesale copying of copyrighted works without permission, while releasing claims well beyond those presented in the case.
Judge Chin is currently a circuit Judge for the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website], but issued his ruling as a district judge, as he had presided over the case before he was elevated to the circuit court.

The original settlement agreement was reached [JURIST report] in October 2008, and arguments on the ASA were heard in February 2010, after which Judge Chin announced [JURIST report] that he would delay ruling on the proposed settlement. Earlier that month the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] filed a statement of interest [JURIST report] urging the court to reject the settlement due to copyright and antitrust concerns, and stating that the agreement would provide Google with "anticompetitive advantages" with potentially monopolistic effects. The DOJ's statement of interest was filed after an official inquiry, which was announced [JURIST report] six months after the original settlement agreement was reached. Meanwhile, concerns had been raised in the European Union and elsewhere that Google's book-scanning initiative violated national copyright laws, especially in France where a Parisian court fined Google [JURIST report] €300,000 euros (USD $430,000) for digitizing books and making excerpts available on the web.

 

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