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Opposition to Google Books settlement grows

With just five days left until the Sept. 4 deadline for individual authors to opt out of the 334-page class-action settlement negotiated by the Authors Guild with Google Books in October 2008 with respect to the distribution of digital rights to all books in print on the World Wide Web, significant opposition to the agreement has now emerged. (see Google Book Search Settlement Notice to Rights-holders - Books & Inserts Registry)

A coincident deadline for all major stakeholders and other affected parties to the settlement also arrives on Friday. That is the last day to file written objections or amicus briefs for or against the agreement to the U.S. Federal District Court Judge Denny Chin in New York City. The Court is expected to announce its decision and establish procedures to enforce it at a "Fairness Hearing" to be held on Oct. 7.

The Google Books Settlement and the Future of Information Access, a daylong seminar examining the far-ranging implications of the settlement for librarians, academic scholars, copyright law specialists, and privacy advocates was scheduled for Friday at the University of California at Berkeley's School of Information. Even as the conference took place, however, several developments with a direct bearing on the settlement have arisen in recent days.

Last Thursday, representatives of Amazon, Microsoft, and Yahoo -- all corporate rivals of Google -- announced plans to join the Open Book Alliance -- a coalition of nonprofit groups, individuals and library associations in filing briefs objecting to the proposed class-action settlement, which would give Google near exclusive rights to commercially distribute millions of books in digital form (including all copyrighted books not currently in print), unless individual authors or copyright holders specifically opt out of the deal in writing.

Another corporate giant, Sony, which earlier this month launched two new versions of its E-book technology (the leading rival to Amazon's Kindle), indicated that it would file friend-of-the-court papers in support of the settlement.  Sony announced a partnership with Google in March that will benefit its line of digital readers by scraping their proprietary e-book format in favor of the Google-friendly e-Pub standard, a publishing industry sponsored digital reader format developed by HarperCollins and Random House which, unlike Amazon's Kindle format, allows e-books to be accessed and shared across a broad variety of platforms, from traditional desktop computers to smartphones and other mobile devices.

This past week, copyright negotiators for the European Union announced that they would also oppose the terms of the settlement negotiated between Authors Guild of the United States and Google concerning the digital distribution of books no longer in print and the fee structure for publishers and authors of books originally published in their member nations. In this New York Times article, their specific objections are outlined.
Earlier this month, the Poets & Writers Magazine reported (Authors Guild Clashes With Agency Over Google Settlement) that a dispute had broken out between the Author's Guild, which negotiated the deal on behalf of writers, and William Morris Endeavor, one of the nation's largest and most respected literary agencies, with many leading authors among its clients. According to a memo obtained by the New York Times last month, William Morris Endeavor was advising all of the authors it represented to opt of the settlement, which would provide Google a 37 percent share of all revenue produced, leaving authors and publishers to split the remaining 63 percent. 
Watch this space for further developments as the Sept. 4 deadline nears.
--R.D. Pohl



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