Judge Delays Google Book Search Hearing to Allow for Revisions

A New York District Court judge delayed a hearing on the Google Book Search settlement between the search engine giant and authors and publishers. Judge Denny Chin said he would hold a status conference on Oct. 7 in place of the fairness hearing to hear progress on the revised deal. This deadline means the Google Book Search parties will have to scramble to revise what is already a very complex proposal.

A New York District Court judge agreed to delay a hearing on the Google Book Search settlement to give Google and authors and publishers time to revise the proposal.

Google Book Search is an October 2008 settlement between Google and the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers that would enable the search engine to scan millions of books online and license them to readers for fees. Authors and publishers would get money from the book sales and associated advertising.

Denny Chin, judge for the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, was scheduled to hold a fairness hearing on Oct. 7. Authors and publishers Sept. 22 asked the judge to postpone this hearing so they can amend the agreement with Google and the Department of Justice, which urged the judge to reject the proposal because it violates class-action, copyright and antitrust regulations.

Noting that the parties in the current Google Book Search proposal have agreed to make changes to the deal with the DOJ's help, Chin wrote:

""Under all the circumstances, it makes no sense to conduct a hearing on the fairness and reasonableness of the current settlement agreement, as it does not appear the current settlement will be the operative one. Accordingly, the court will not proceed with the fairness hearing on October 7, 2009.""

Chin also noted that while the deal merits many concerns, it also offers many benefits to society.

While the authors and publishers asked Chin to schedule a status conference for Nov. 6 to discuss their progress in changing the proposal, Chin said he would instead hold the status conference on Oct. 7, in place of the fairness hearing. In making this decision, Chin noted this case has been pending for more than four years.

The Authors Guild responded: "We'll continue to work on amending the settlement to address the Justice Department's concerns."

Still, the Oct. 7 deadline means the Google Book Search parties will have to scramble to revise what is already a very complex proposal. The deal calls for Google to pay $125 million, $34 million of which would be set aside to fund a Books Rights Registry to disperse the appropriate book revenues to Google, authors and publishers.

In any event, Chin's filing confirms what Google Book Search opponent Open Book Alliance concluded after authors and publishers asked for a delay in the fairness hearing: "That settlement, as we know it, is dead."

More than 400 parties submitted filings to the district court supporting or opposing the agreement.