No ruling at Google books hearing: judge

on February 18 2010 3:16 PM

Lawyers for authors, publishers, corporations and governments came to a New York court to challenge or hail a proposed deal over Google Inc's plans to digitize millions of books, but the judge said he would not rule on Thursday.

Under the terms of the proposed settlement of a 2005 lawsuit brought by the Authors Guild, Google would pay $125 million to create a book rights registry, where authors and publishers would register works and be paid for books and other publications the search giant puts online.

As many as 28 parties in opposition or in favor of the proposal were given a chance to present arguments on issues of privacy rights, copyright, class action and antitrust law at a crowded fairness hearing in Manhattan federal court.

To end the suspense, I'm not going to rule today at this hearing, Judge Denny Chin said at the start of the proceeding. There is just too much to digest. I have an open mind.

Chin said he would rule later, but did not specify a date.

Google has played down the economic benefits of the project, saying most of the books are either out of copyright or no longer in print.

Critics of the proposed settlement include Amazon.com Inc and Microsoft Corp, while Sony Corp favors the pact.

A second courtroom was also filled with company representatives, authors, publishers and blind readers who watched or listened to the proceedings on a closed-circuit TV and audio feed.

Google argued in court papers that its agreement with the Authors Guild to create a digital library was legal and a contribution to human knowledge.

Google's plan has been praised for expanding access to books. But the U.S. Justice Department criticized it in legal briefs on February 4 on a variety of grounds, saying it potentially violated antitrust and copyright laws. The governments of France and Germany also oppose the deal.

Lawyer David Nimmer for Amazon.com told the court that part of the settlement agreement was logically incoherent on copyright issues.

Nimmer said that in Amazon's view, the deal essentially says, The settlement agreement is lawful because the settlement agreement says the settlement agreement is lawful.

That turns copyright law on its head, he said.

He and other opponents argued that copyright issues should be determined by legislation in the U.S. Congress.

Lawyer Tom Rubin for Microsoft said Google was seeking, for its own commercial ends, to copyright every book since 1923. He argued that there were fundamental problems over copyright, class action and antitrust law in the proposal.

But at least one legal academic spoke in favor of approving the settlement.

Copyright is designed to be an engine of social development, not a brake on it, said Lateef Mtima of the Institute of Intellectual Property and Social Justice at the Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C.

The Justice Department recommended in September that the agreement be rejected. Faced with this and other opposition, Google and a group of authors and publishers made a series of changes to the deal in November, but this has failed to stem the criticism.

The case is The Authors Guild et al v. Google, Inc, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 05-08136

(Reporting by Grant McCool and Diane Bartz; Editing by Derek Caney and John Wallace)

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