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Fed’l Judge Gives Thumbs Down To Google Books Settlement

U.S District Court Judge Denny Chin denied approval of a $125 million settlement in the class-action lawsuit filed against Google over its efforts to digitize all written books.  Critics and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit (primarily publishing interests) argued that Google was ignoring copyright protections and, in effect, seeking an unfair competitive advantage.

Although the parties settled, Judge Chin wrote, “I conclude that the [Settlement Agreement] is not fair, adequate, and reasonable.”  He elaborated, saying:

While the digitization of books and the creation of a universal digital library would benefit many, the [Settlement Agreement] would simply go too far. It would permit this class action — which was brought against defendant Google Inc. (“Google”) 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 [Settlement Agreement] 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.

Amazon and Microsoft argued, and Judge Chin noted, that by approving the agreement, he may effect a mass-transfer of copyrights without the consent of the rights holders, and against the laws restricting such far-reaching copyright actions to Congress.  You can read more about these arguments at TechCrunch here.

Despite the judge’s ruling, however, the plaintiffs in the case indicated their intention to revive the settlement by supplementing its terms to make it fair.

It is note-worthy that Google undertook significant efforts to locate the rights holders of as many of the digitized books as possible, going all over the world in an attempt to locate authors and others.  The driving force behind this litigation is financially well-heeled publishing houses, online publishers and other corporate interests who happen to hold the rights to some works Google wants to digitize.  It is not the authors.

Does that change your viewpoint on how this case should ultimately be decided?  Is the judge blocking industry changes (digitizing of content) that is beneficial and likely to happen anyway?

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