Judge issues extension in Google Book Search settlement

The search giant had asked for a 60-day extension, but a federal judge felt four months were needed to give more authors a chance to join or opt out.

Update at 3:11 p.m. PDT: This story now includes a comment from Consumer Watchdog.

A federal judge has granted authors worldwide four more months to decide whether to participate in a settlement involving Google's online Book Search service.

Absent the ruling, made by Judge Denny Chin of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, authors would have had until May 5 to decide whether to join the settlement or opt out.

But according to a law clerk in Chin's court, as well as one of the lawyers in the case, the deadline to opt out of the settlement is now September 4, 2009, and the final fairness hearing in the case will be held on October 7, in New York.

"We're excited about the proposed settlement agreement regarding Google Book Search," said Gabriel Stricker, a Google spokesperson, in an e-mail to CNET News. "As we've said previously, the settlement is highly detailed, and we want to make sure rightsholders everywhere have enough time to think about it and make sure it's right for them."

In fact, though, Google may not be happy with the outcome, and some suggest that the very fact that the company asked for a delay at all indicated it didn't have much faith in its ability to prevail in the end.

"The four-month extension is a big victory for those who oppose the Google Books settlement," said John Simpson, a consumer advocate with Consumer Watchdog. "It's a clear recognition by the judge that there are problems with the proposed deal. The extension also gives the Justice Department more time to consider the antitrust issues that we and others have raised and discussed with them."

As proposed, the settlement of the case filed by the Authors Guild and the American Association of Publishers in 2005, revolves around Google's ability to include content from books online, and in particular "orphan" works that are still under copyright, but are out of print or written by authors who can't be found.

But some parties to the deal are objecting to Google's proposed settlement.

Google had sought an extension to the settlement of 60 days . On Monday, the company's associate general counsel for products and intellectual property wrote in a blog post explaining the request for a 60-day extension that, "The settlement is highly detailed, and we want to make sure rightsholders everywhere have enough time to think about it and make sure it's right for them."

"This is my understanding of how this goes," a source close to the legal matter told CNET News. "(Google, the Authors Guild and the American Association of Publishers) blanket the Earth and try to let everybody know about the agreement, and right now (they) believe (they) have blanketed the Earth."

The source also suggested that Google and the plaintiffs have been working on the settlement for years, so whether the outcome is "years plus two months or years plus four months is neither here nor there."

But, the source added, those involved in promoting the book service are eager to see it get off the ground and that the four-month extension just means delaying that for two months longer."

settlement extension
Federal judge Denny Chin granted this four-month extension to a group of authors involved in a class action against Google over the search giant's Book Search service. Click image to enlarge and read page one of his order.

Chin's ruling Tuesday seemed to be a direct response to a request made last week by seven authors for a full four-month extension due to the proposed settlement's complexity.

"First, two months' time is insufficient to understand the implications of a settlement of this scope," the authors wrote in their request (PDF). "Second, substantial defects in notice of the settlement undermine authors' ability to assess their rights; and third, more time is required simply to understand the complex terms of the agreement."

Chin cited a letter from the authors, as well as a separate letter from a group of academic authors in making his decision.

"Upon consideration of the letters, I will grant approximately a four-month extension," Chin wrote.

In an interview given to Publisher's Weekly, Gail Knight Steinbeck, one of the seven authors who asked for the four-month extension, praised Chin's decision. "We now have (the) time to really sink our teeth into what this agreement will mean," she told the magazine, adding that she felt that the authors now had the time they needed to figure out whether modifications to the settlement will make it suitable, whether to opt out or whether to fight the settlement.

Joanne Zack, an attorney for the author sub-class and the Authors Guild, said she had no comment on the settlement extension.

 

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