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Growing Opposition To Proposed Google Books Settlement

Court case could be a signal whether limits will be set on Google's power in the digital information world.

Google

Tuesday marked the deadline for outside parties to file briefs in the case that some are viewing as a test on the limits of Google's influence as a broker of digital information.

Authors and publishers sued Google in 2005 seeking to block its Google Books initiative to sell digitized versions of thousands of out-of-print books. The two sides reached a settlement that would allow Google Books to go forward, but opposition to the agreement has been growing.

The case is now in the hands of a judge in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York who must approve the settlement, reject it or get the parties to modify it.

Before yesterday businesses and organizations filing opposing briefs in the case included Amazon, the Association of College and Research Libraries, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Tuesday they were joined by Microsoft, Yahoo, Privacy Authors and Publishers, and the Open Book Alliance, among others.

The proposed settlement "confers on Google a new monopoly by authoring Google (and Google alone) to engage in the wholesale commercial exploitation of entire copyrighted books," states the 28-page brief filed by Microsoft.

"Millions of copyright owners around the world who did not participate in and do not even know about this litigation -- many of whose works Google has not even scanned -- stand on the verge of having their copyrights infringed in ways exponentially greater than the conduct challenged in the complaints," the filing states. "Monopolization is the wrong means to carry out the worthy goal of digitizing and increasing the accessibility of books."

"The proposed class-action settlement is monumentally overbroad and invites the Court to overstep its legal jurisdiction, to the detriment of consumers and the public," said a brief filed by Consumer Watchdog, which argued that the agreement would give Google an unlawful monopoly. "The proposed Settlement Agreement would strip rights from millions of absent class members, worldwide, in violation of national and international copyright law, for the sole benefit of Google."

Also filing a brief against the settlement was the Open Book Alliance, a coalition of companies that includes Microsoft and Yahoo. That group is led by Silicon Valley antitrust attorney Gary Reback who in the 1990s persuaded the U.S. Department of Justice to pursue its antitrust against Microsoft, according to a story in The New York Times.

Earlier this week a number of European authors and publishers expressed their opposition to the settlement during a hearing in Brussels sponsored by the European Commission. The countries of France and Germany are among those filing briefs opposing the settlement.

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