State AGs On Google Books Settlement: The Heck It's Lawful

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The growing list of parties opposed to Google's contentious Google Books settlement now includes the attorneys general from at least five U.S. states. That means that while Google may be trying to advance its Google Books project with the purchase of ReCAPTCHA and an agreement with On Demand Books, it may have even more of a fight on its hands than it first realized.

Attorneys general from Missouri, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Washington have all filed official comments opposing the Google Books settlement, suggesting that Google's use of payments for copyright holders that can't be located is unlawful. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal also noted antitrust concerns in his office's filing.

Google settled with several authors' rights and publishing associations in October 2008 after being sued for what those groups suggested was copyright violation on the part of Google's ongoing Google Book Search project. The agreement was that Google would pay $125 million to those groups but be allowed to continue its Google Book Search project, which some observers fear gives Google too much control over digital books.

The settlement has been in limbo ever since, as the U.S. Justice Department opened an investigation and a variety of high-profile technology and publishing companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo have stepped up their public criticism of Google.

One of the linchpin issues is that Google is not only digitizing public domain books, but also digitizing out-of-print, copyright-protected books whose rights holders in many cases can't be located. The state attorneys general have reiterated concerns that the Books Rights Registry -- the non-profit set up under the terms of the settlement -- will keep any money generated through ads sold against books on Google Book Search. Doing so, they contend, violates states' rights that say a state treasurer is the body that collects unclaimed payments on behalf of its citizens.

The U.S. Justice Department is expected to file its concerns about the Google Books settlement with the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York Friday, and another hearing is scheduled in District Court for Oct. 7.

These latest wrinkles in the Google Books settlement case comes just as Google announced a deal with On Demand Books that would allow users to buy physical copies of the books that Google has scanned and digitized. On Demand's technology, the Espresso Book Machine, converts and prints digital books to hard copy versions.

Google also this week purchased ReCAPTCHA, whose CAPTCHA technology -- creator of those squiggly word displays seen when trying to authenticate an e-mail or buy tickets online -- will, according to Google, assist in its ongoing book digitization efforts.

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