Seeking more time to iron out concerns raised last week by federal antitrust regulators, the Authors Guild and the Assn. of American Publishers on Tuesday asked a federal judge to delay an Oct. 7 hearing on a controversial settlement with Google Inc.
The settlement, which requires court approval, would pave the way for the Mountain View, Calif., Internet search company to create a digital library containing millions of out-of-print books.
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a brief Friday with the court outlining concerns that the agreement "as proposed" could run afoul of class-action, antitrust and copyright laws.
The authors and publishers groups, noting that more than 400 briefs had been filed by outside parties, said they would require more time to address the Justice Department's concerns.
The groups asked whether they could return to the court Nov. 6 with a revised settlement and a new timeline for hearings.
"It is because the parties wish to work with the DOJ to the fullest extent possible that they have engaged, and plan to continue to engage, in negotiations," the groups wrote in their request to U.S. District Judge Denny Chin. "Nevertheless, it is clear that the complex issues raised . . . preclude submission of an amended agreement by Oct. 7."
Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group in Santa Monica, objected to the "closed-door" nature of the negotiations with the Justice Department.
"Key copyright issues must be settled by Congress in a fully public process," said John Simpson, a Consumer Watchdog spokesman.
The Justice Department, in its brief, broadly outlined several sticking points, including the assumption that authors are automatically part of the settlement unless they opt out, Google's proposal for an "algorithm" to set the price for access to the digital books, and the ability of other booksellers to compete with Google in selling "orphan books," works whose copyright holders can't be found.
While some of the concerns can be easily dealt with, others may be trickier, said Randal Picker, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School.
Google, for example, two weeks ago said it would allow rival retailers to sell access to its archive of orphan books, letting the resellers keep a "majority" of the revenue from the sales.
"Google has already indicated they are in favor of that," said Picker, who believed that Chin would most likely grant the request for an extension. "But it will be interesting to see how the parties react to the issue of having authors automatically opt out rather than opt in."
Google did not request an extension.
"We are considering the points raised by the Department of Justice and others, and we look forward to addressing them as the court proceedings continue," Google said in a statement. "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."