Judge agrees to postpone Google Books hearing

The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers had requested a postponement to rework the settlement agreement

The Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers (AAP), and Google will get more time to modify their proposed agreement to settle lawsuits the two organizations filed against the search company over its book search service.

Judge Denny Chin on Thursday granted a request made earlier this week by the Authors Guild and the AAP to postpone the "final fairness" hearing on their proposed settlement agreement with Google.

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The Authors Guild and the AAP told the court on Tuesday that they are working with Google to modify the agreement, which would end the four-year-old copyright infringement case.

Hammered out in October last year, the proposed agreement has generated a lot of controversy from critics who say it gives Google too much power to set book prices.

Critics have also expressed concern over "orphan works," books that are under copyright but whose owners can't be found because the author has died or the publishing house disappeared.

However, the biggest objection came on Friday, when the U.S. Department of Justice told the court that it shouldn't approve the proposed agreement in its current form. In a 32-page filing, the DOJ said the settlement needs to be reworked so that it complies with U.S. copyright and antitrust laws, as well as with the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, which governs the approval of class-action lawsuit settlements.

Now, the Authors Guild, the AAP, and Google are revising the agreement so that it can get the DOJ's stamp of approval, but they said they wouldn't have the revised proposal ready by Oct. 7, the original date of the "final fairness" hearing.

"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 that the current settlement will be the operative one," Judge Chin wrote.

However, in granting the postponement request, Judge Chin said that the parties still need to be in court on Oct. 7 for a status hearing, during which they'll work out a schedule for how to proceed.

In their filing Tuesday, the Authors Guild and the AAP had asked that a status hearing be held on Nov. 6, but evidently the judge wants to move more quickly.

In 2005, book authors and the Authors Guild filed a class-action lawsuit, while five large publishers filed a separate lawsuit as representatives of the AAP's membership.

Both lawsuits allege that Google has violated copyright laws by scanning books from the libraries of major universities without always getting permission from the copyright owners of the books.

Google's defense has been that it is protected by the "fair use" principle because its books search engine only shows short snippets of text for copyright books it has scanned without permission.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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