Google, book publishers settle copyright suit

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SAN FRANCISCO - Google and major book publishers have settled a lengthy legal battle over digital copyrights, but a bigger dispute still looms with thousands of authors who allege that Google is illegally profiting from their works.

The truce announced Thursday ends a federal lawsuit filed in 2005 by several members of the Association of American Publishers after Google Inc. began stockpiling its Internet search index with digital duplicates of books scanned from libraries.

Google has maintained that its scanning is covered by fair-use provisions of copyright law, although it offered to remove specific books from its index upon request. It also showed only snippets of the copyrighted books unless permission was given to show more.

Publishers and authors, however, insisted that Google needed explicit permission from them before making the digital copies, let alone showing even snippets of text on its website.

Google worked out a $125 million settlement with publishers and authors in 2008, only to have a federal judge in New York reject it after the U.S. Justice Department and other critics contended that it would thwart competition in the rapidly growing digital book market and flout U.S. copyright law.

One of the reasons that settlement unraveled was because it would have given Google broad authority to copy books, unless an author or publisher notified the company not to make the duplicate.

Terms of the new settlement weren't divulged, but it won't require court approval because its reach will be limited to the parties signing on.

The scaled-down agreement with publishers is likely to make more copyright-protected books available online. Most of those will be sold through Google Play, a digital store. Publishers will have the right to release digital copies of their books in Google Play or remove them from Google's search index entirely.

Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., will also provide publishers with a digital copy of a scanned book upon request.

The settlement "shows that digital services can provide innovative means to discover content while still respecting the rights of copyright holders," Tom Allen, president of the publishers' group, said in a statement.

Although the sparring over Google's effort to create the world's largest digital library appears to be over on one front, a lawsuit filed by the Authors Guild remains in the way of Google's ambitious plans to digitize more than 130 million of books sitting on library shelves around the world.

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