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Report: Google considering book settlement tweaks

Under fire from critics and the scrutiny of the Department of Justice, Google is reportedly considering modifications to its book search settlement with book authors and publishers.

Google is in talks with the Department of Justice and the plaintiffs in its book search settlement over possible modifications to the deal that could assuage the concerns of the Justice Department, according to a report.

Bloomberg reported late Wednesday that Google, a group of plaintiffs that sued it in 2005, and the Justice Department are in talks over the settlement, which gives Google the legal standing to digitize out-of-print books that are still protected by copyright law. Google was sued by numerous groups including the Authors Guild and several publishers after it began scanning that type of book, and came away with the right to present those books in Google Book Search following an October 2008 settlement.

But that settlement has provoked strident dissent from several authors, libraries, and privacy advocates concerned about Google's unique license to those out-of-print books. Google has promised to act responsibility, and notes that any other company can negotiate scanning deals with the Books Rights Registry set up as part of the settlement, but the deal as structured is apparently not enough to satisfy the Justice Department, according to the report, which doesn't specify which provisions of the agreement are subject to change.

A Google representative declined to comment on any possible negotiations with the plaintiffs and the Justice Department but said of the settlement "if approved by the court, this settlement stands to unlock access to millions of books in the U.S. while giving authors and publishers new ways to distribute their work."

One possibility is that the Justice Department is concerned about the Books Rights Registry, which under the settlement has the power to negotiate deals with other companies, distribute payments to books rights holders, and represent the interest of authors and publishers. The registry has been criticized as a "cartel" by Google's detractors, who believe that although it is a nonprofit run separately from Google it will essentially function as a gatekeeper for other companies that wish to scan and distribute books.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt expressed frustration with the critics of the settlement earlier today in an interview with Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan, complaining that those criticizing the settlement aren't putting forward their own solutions to create what all parties to the settlement agree would be a tremendous asset: a comprehensive digital library.

"I'm open to a better solution," Schmidt told Search Engine Land. "You will recall, we had our solution, and we were sued over it. And we then had a-god-knows-how-many years of negotiations with 27 parties, and we've actually produced a deal," he said.

Google was ordered Wednesday by Judge Denny Chin, who is overseeing the settlement, to respond by October 2 to the wave of comments he has received regarding the settlement. Supporters and objectors had until last week to file comments with the judge, who will consider them before holding a final hearing on October 7 to decide whether to approve the settlement.