Google Said to Be Modifying Google Book Search for DOJ

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-09-17

Google and authors and publishers are talking to the U.S. Department of Justice about modifying the Google Book Search agreement, Bloomberg reported Sept. 16. 

Inked in October 2008, the controversial deal calls for Google to scan millions of books online and charge users to read them, sharing the proceeds with authors and publishers.

Details are scant, but Bloomberg cited anonymous sources who said the parties were discussing ways to make the DOJ feel more comfortable with the competitive implications of the deal. Spokespersons for the Justice Department and Google declined to comment to eWEEK when asked.  

Amazon, which is operating its own book-scanning initiative and offers customers books via its Kindle electronic reader device, has argued that the deal would give Google too much control over online books.

Amazon is particularly concerned about orphan works, or those books that are out of print and for which a copyright holder cannot be found. Amazon, which does not offer its Kindle readers out-of-print books, also said Google, authors and publishers would have the power to fix prices at will.

Google moved to assuage those concerns Sept. 10 by offering to let any book retailer, from Amazon to Barnes & Noble and local bookstores, resell Google Book Search titles to consumers on any Internet-connected device they choose.

Consumer advocate group Consumer Watchdog asked the DOJ to enforce this offer. Privacy advocates oppose the deal because they believe Google will collect too much info on users without proper precautions to protect readers' privacy.

Sept. 8 was the deadline for parties to voice support or concerns about the deal to New York District Judge Denny Chin, who is holding a hearing on the agreement Oct. 7 to decide whether to approve or deny the deal.

However, Chin asked the Justice Department, which has been scrutinizing the deal for months, to submit its view on the deal by Sept. 18. The DOJ spokesperson declined to say what the agency will announce then.

Bloomberg said Chin has received some 400 filings by individuals and groups who object to the deal, support it or want some legal points to be considered. He ordered Google and the other parties to the settlement to respond to the comments by Oct. 2, or five days before the hearing.

Reuters reported that the attorneys general of Connecticut, Texas and Missouri oppose the deal. They argue that money Google earns distributing orphan works should go to state unclaimed property offices instead of the Book Rights Registry, which will be created to distribute revenue from Google Books to authors and publishers. 

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