In another blow to Google’s plan to create a giant digital library and bookstore, the Justice Department on Thursday said that a class-action settlement between the company and groups representing authors and publishers had significant legal problems, even after recent revisions.
In a 31-page filing that could influence a federal judge’s ruling on the settlement, the department said the new agreement was much improved from an earlier version. But it said the changes were not enough to placate concerns that the deal would grant Google a monopoly over millions of orphan works, meaning books whose right holders are unknown or cannot be found.
The department also indicated that the revised agreement, like its predecessor, appeared to run afoul of authors’ copyrights and was too broad in scope.
The revised agreement “suffers from the same core problem as the original agreement: it is an attempt to use the class-action mechanism to implement forward-looking business arrangements that go far beyond the dispute before the court in this litigation,” the department wrote.
The department asked the court to encourage the parties to continue discussions on further changes to the settlement, which it said had many public benefits.
While the Justice Department did not explicitly urge the court to reject the deal, as it had the previous version, its opposition on copyright, class action and antitrust grounds represented a further setback for Google and the other parties to the deal.
The settlement stems from copyright lawsuits filed by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers over Google’s plan to digitize books from major libraries. The settlement, introduced in October 2008, would allow Google to make millions of books available online and commercialize them, while creating new ways for authors and publishers to earn money from digital copies of their works.
But the deal faced a chorus of critics who argued that it would give Google a monopoly on millions of out-of-print books and had failed to take into account the interests of many authors.
In a statement on behalf of Google and the author and publisher groups, a Google spokesman, Gabriel Stricker, said the Justice Department’s filing “recognizes the progress made with the revised settlement, and it once again reinforces the value the agreement can provide in unlocking access to millions of books in the U.S.” He said Google looked forward to the court’s review of the department’s views and those of the deal’s supporters.
Judge Denny Chin of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, who will rule on the settlement, scheduled a hearing on the agreement for Feb. 18.