Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Revised Google Book Settlement Attempts to Address U.S. Competition Concerns

This posting was written by Jeffrey May, Editor of CCH Trade Regulation Reporter.

After consulting with the U.S. Department of Justice, lawyers representing the parties in a copyright dispute brought by authors and publishers against online search engine Google have filed a revised settlement agreement with the federal district court in New York City.

The settlement would resolve claims that Google violated copyright laws by scanning books, creating an electronic database, and displaying excerpts without the permission of copyright holders. Google has denied the claims.

On November 13, 2009, the revised settlement proposal was filed with the court for preliminary approval. The revised proposal comes after the Justice Department expressed concerns that an earlier settlement agreement could harm competition. Specifically, the Justice Department questioned the proposed settlement’s pricing terms and its creation of "de facto exclusive rights for the digital distribution of orphan works."

The latest settlement proposal, which narrows the scope of the books involved, "clarifies how Google's algorithm will work to price books competitively," according to the parties. It will simulate the prices in a competitive market. Moreover, the new proposal removes the so-called "most-favored nation" clause, which pertains to licensing of unclaimed works.

The Justice Department had contended that the most-favored nation clause in the earlier settlement could discourage potential competitors from attempting to compete with Google in digital-book distribution.

Whether these concessions will satisfy the Justice Department's competition concerns is unclear. It has been reported that the Justice Department will provide its views on the revised settlement early next year.

Another change to the proposed settlement limited its scope to books published in the U.S., Great Britain, Canada, and Australia. This change was prompted by objections by foreign governments, rather than the Department of Justice.

Text of the revised settlement agreement in The Authors Guild, Inc. v. Google, Inc., appears here. In the next week, the federal district court is expected to set a date for a “fairness hearing.”

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