Google kisses and makes up with book publishers

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Google (GOOG), book authors and publishers had until midnight to provide a federal court with a plan to settle differences on how the search engine digitizes and charges for books. The group waited until the last minute to get its proposed settlement to the courthouse. The new agreement may address government concerns about Google's earlier settlement that gave it a virtual monopoly in the online digital book market.

Google, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers, filed a new version of the methods that Google will use to create an online library. An earlier deal had been challenged for potential violations of copyright law and antitrust provisions. The entire agreement and its proposed benefits to all parties was posted on the Google website. The search company promoted that settlement by saying "Today we're delighted to announce that we've settled that lawsuit and will be working closely with these industry partners to bring even more of the world's books online. Together we'll accomplish far more than any of us could have individually, to the enduring benefit of authors, publishers, researchers and readers alike."

According to the documents filed with the court, the arrangement establishes rules for books either registered with the U.S. Copyright Office or published in Australia, Canada or the U.K. The settlement does not include an earlier provision created by a 2008 deal that required the book registry to give Google equal to or better financial deals for book royalties than any new Google competitor is given. Books that do not have known rights-holders will be managed by an independent fiduciary rather than being in the registry itself. Funds from these titles, if unclaimed, will go to charily.

Because the settlement does not include authors outside of those few countries, "Dan Clancy, architect of the Google program, said the search giant would reach out to authors' groups overseas," according to Reuters. An analysis of the court papers by The Wall Street Journal says that it "clarifies how Google's algorithm will work to establish consumer purchase prices that simulate the prices in a competitive market."

The deal is not the first between Google on the one hand and authors and publishers on the other. A 2008 agreement tried to settle copyright issues between the two sides after the writers' groups had sued Google in 2005. That settlement was challenged by the Justice Department as giving Google too much power to control the digital book market.

Of course, what the parties or the media think of the deal or how they analyze its strengths does not matter much. The Justice Department and court will now review the settlement, and there is absolutely no reason to think it will get an easy approval.

Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 24/7 Wall St.

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