Google’s books plan hailed, reviled

By Diane Bartz Diane Bartz – 17 mins ago

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Google Inc was lauded as a visionary intent on spreading the world’s knowledge and reviled as a copyright infringer cavalier about protecting users’ privacy in a hearing on Thursday to discuss its plan to digitize millions of books.

Under the terms of the proposed settlement of a 2005 lawsuit brought by the Authors Guild, Google would pay $125 million to create a book rights registry, where authors and publishers would register works and be paid for books and other publications the search giant puts online.

Manhattan federal court Judge Denny Chin said he would make no immediate ruling and did not specify when he would.

“To end the suspense, I’m not going to rule today at this hearing,” Judge Denny Chin said at the start of the proceeding. “There is just too much to digest.”

Two criticisms of the deal were reiterated by critics, that Google is including books in the settlement unless the author contacts the company to opt out, in conflict with normal copyright law which requires affirmative agreement.

Further, Google has made an inadequate effort to reach out to members, they said.

“I never received notice,” said Scott Gant, an author.

Lawyer David Nimmer for said that in Amazon’s view, the deal essentially says, “The settlement agreement is lawful because the settlement agreement says the settlement agreement is lawful.”

“That turns copyright law on its head,” he said.

The judge seemed sympathetic to several critics, who worried that Google had put no specifics in its agreement to ensure reader privacy.

One critic said Google’s software was set up to allow Google to see what was actually read and to record notes that were taken. One suggested requiring Google to delete reader information after a limited time and only give it to law enforcement on receipt of a court order.

“How do you fix it? How is it fixable?” asked Chin.

Other critics took aim at the deal for failing to comply with class action and antitrust law at the crowded hearing.

Google has played down the economic benefits of the project, saying most of the books are either out of copyright or no longer in print.

Critics of the proposed settlement include Inc and Microsoft Corp, while Sony Corp, which makes an electronic reader, favors the pact.

Google’s plan has been praised for expanding access to books. But the U.S. Justice Department criticized it in legal briefs on February 4 on a variety of grounds, saying it potentially violated antitrust and copyright laws. The governments of France and Germany also oppose the deal.

But at least one legal academic spoke in favor of approving the settlement.

“Copyright is designed to be an engine of social development, not a brake on it,” said Lateef Mtima of the Institute of Intellectual Property and Social Justice at the Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C.

The Justice Department recommended in September that the agreement be rejected. Faced with this and other opposition, Google and a group of authors and publishers made a series of changes to the deal in November, but this has failed to stem the criticism.

The case is The Authors Guild et al v. Google, Inc, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 05-08136

(Reporting by Grant McCool and Diane Bartz; Editing by Derek Caney, John Wallace, Phil Berlowitz)

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