Google and representatives for authors and publishers told a U.S. District Court judge Thursday that they would like to continue discussions on a revised settlement in a copyright infringement case that has dragged on for years.
The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers have agreed with Google on a pretrial schedule but told Judge Denny Chin that they would nevertheless continue discussions on a revised settlement agreement.
"It is our position that we would very much like to continue discussions on a parallel track" to the pretrial schedule, said Michael Boni, a lawyer for the authors. The representative for the publishers, Bruce Keller, went further, saying that he hoped that the pretrial schedule would be "moot."
At a status hearing in July, Judge Chin told Google and the plaintiffs that, if they wanted to re-submit a settlement proposal, it had to be ready by Thursday's hearing or he would shift the focus toward a trial. Chin rejected a proposed settlement in the case in March, saying it was not fair, adequate or reasonable because it would have given Google "significant rights to exploit entire books without permission from copyright owners" as well as "significant advantage over competitors."
Attorneys Thursday expressed optimism about the progress that has been made during discussions since July.
"We're encouraged by the progress we've made with publishers and we believe that we can reach an agreement that offers great benefit to users and rights holders alike," said Gabriel Stricker, a director of Google global communications and public affairs.
Based on comments made at the hearing, it appears that more progress has been made with the publishers than with the authors. It's possible that Google will strike a deal with publishers and then litigate with authors.
The settlement that Chin rejected in March was drafted in 2008 and revised once later. It was criticized by many legal scholars, Google competitors, prominent authors and publishers, and the U.S. Department of Justice.
If it had been approved, the settlement would have given way to Google's ambitious plans to build a massive marketplace and library for digital books.
In his 48-page decision rejecting the proposal, Judge Chin suggested that the parties would have a better chance of success with a settlement based on an "opt in" model for authors and publishers rather than "opt out."
The legal battle started in 2005 when the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers sued Google alleging copyright infringement from its program to scan millions of books from library collections without always getting permission from copyright owners.
As part of the project, started in 2004, Google scans the books and gives participating libraries digital copies, and also stores copies on its own servers so that people can search them on the Google Books search engine.
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