The controversial Google Books settlement is officially dead, at least in its current form. Heavily criticized by a number of organizations and competing companies, the deal that would have given Google carte blanche to scan and sell out-of-print books without the explicit consent of their authors has now been delayed indefinitely. The agreement was supposed to come under review on October 7 but the plaintiffs, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers, filed a motion to delay the hearing. Google didn't object to the motion leading Judge Denny Chin to approve it.
A large number of parties have voiced their concerns and opposition to the deal, bringing the attention of the US Department of Justice. Following an investigation during the course of the summer the DOJ concluded that the deal still had some major issues in its current form and urged the two sides to reconsider it. The DOJ also recommended that the settlement be rejected by the judge in the upcoming court hearing to review it.
It looks like the recommendations were taken into consideration and the two sides made the first step, in anticipation of the expected rejection, asking for more time to renegotiate some of the terms. “The current settlement agreement raises significant issues, as demonstrated not only by the number of objections, but also by the fact that the objectors include countries, states, nonprofit organizations, and prominent authors and law professors,” Judge Chin wrote following the motion to delay in his order [PDF]. “Clearly, fair concerns have been raised.”
The two sides will now go into another round of negotiations to revise the aspects of the deal that have drawn the most concerns. This wasn't entirely unexpected as the DOJ also mentioned in its findings that the deal could go through if certain thorny aspects were dealt with also noting that Google and the publishers seemed willing to make the changes necessary to get the approval.
“The settlement would offer many benefits to society, as recognized by supporters of the settlement as well as D.O.J.,” Judge Chin also noted, leading to believe that a revised version of the settlement would be approved. “It would appear that if a fair and reasonable settlement can be struck, the public would benefit.”
A group of publishers and authors sued Google in 2005 after the company started scanning out-of-print books that were still under copyright for its Google Books project. The parties reached a settlement last year in which Google would pay $125 million for the rights to scan and potentially sell any out-of-print books. Authors would receive a share of the revenue and had the possibility to opt-out of the deal but their works would be included by default if they didn't make their objections heard. The most problematic issue was for the so-called orphaned books, which are still under copyright but for which the original authors or the current copyright holders can't be located or determined.