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Publishers and authors ask to delay Google hearing for new settlement

Posted: September 28, 2009 5:33 p.m.
Updated: September 22, 2009 5:27 p.m.
 

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Publisher and author associations sought today to cancel a key hearing in the Google Books case to allow private negotiations with Google over digitizing books online. Consumer Watchdog warned that important issues affecting copyright law should not be negotiated behind closed doors.

Notice of the motion was filed in U.S. District Court today after the Department of Justice raised objections to the proposed Google Books deal late last Friday. The nonpartisan, nonprofit Consumer Watchdog had also filed an amicus brief opposing the settlement.
A hearing was scheduled before Judge Denny Chin on Oct. 7, but the publishers and authors associations said they are negotiating a new deal with Google and claimed it would make no sense for a hearing until that is reached.

Consumer Watchdog said the settlement cannot be approved in the face of antitrust and other objections by Justice and key copyright issues must be settled by Congress in a fully public process.

"Essentially Google and the authors and publishers groups are back at square one and must re-negotiate the deal," said John M. Simpson, a consumer advocate with Consumer Watchdog. "But important copyright issues shouldn't be settled in closed-door negotiations among parties in a private suit. Questions like how to handle 'orphan works' are issues that must be resolved through Congressional action."

Orphan works are works under copyright, but with the rights holders unknown or not found. The risk of using such works is that a rights holder will emerge after the book has been exploited and demand substantial infringement penalties. The original settlement would have protected Google from such potentially damaging exposure, but provided no protection for others. This effectively is a barrier for competitors to enter the digital book business.

Consumer Watchdog asked the Justice Department last April to intervene in the Google Books settlement because of antitrust concerns.

The law firm of Kasowitz, Benson filed an amicus brief in New York's Southern U.S. District Court opposing the deal on Consumer Watchdog's behalf. On Sept. 10 Simpson was one of eight witnesses to testify about the deal to the House Judiciary Committee.

The case in U.S. District Court's Southern District of New York stems from a suit brought by The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers.

Consumer Watchdog, formerly the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, D.C., and Santa Monica, Calif. Our Web site is consumerwatchdog.org.

Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP is a national law firm with more than 300 lawyers specializing in high-stakes, complex litigation. The firm has offices in New York, Newark, Houston, Atlanta, Miami and San Francisco.

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