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Google's digital book settlement still under fire

/ Source: The Associated Press

Google Inc.'s bid to secure the digital rights to millions of books remains under attack from rivals and other critics trying to block a revised legal settlement that would unlock a vast electronic library.

The opposition fired its latest salvo Thursday, the deadline for filing objections with U.S. District Judge Denny Chin in New York.

The critics contend Google's $125 million settlement of a class action lawsuit with U.S. publishers and authors would thwart competition and drive up prices in the budding electronic book market. Opponents also warn the digital books will give Google an important tool for attracting more traffic and building upon its already commanding lead in the Internet's lucrative search and advertising market.

Google argues the agreement will benefit society by making it easier to see and potentially buy hard-to-find books that have only been available in print in a handful of libraries.

The company, based in Mountain View, has made digital copies of more than 12 million books during the past five years, but can't display most of them until copyright issues are resolved.

Chin has scheduled a Feb. 18 hearing to consider whether he will grant final approval to the complex settlement that was first worked out 15 months ago.

Google revised the agreement in November, two months after the Department of Justice warned the original settlement probably would violate antitrust and copyright laws. The government has until Feb. 4 to file its opinion about the revised settlement.

The most strident criticism to the changes so far have come from the same foes that have spearheaded the resistance since last summer. The opposing camp includes the Open Book Alliance, a group including Google rivals Microsoft Corp., Yahoo Inc. and Inc., as well as Consumer Watchdog, a group that fights abusive business practices.

More people and industry groups have lined up to support the settlement since Google agreed to narrow the settlement's scope. The new backers include the families of author John Steinbeck and songwriter Woody Guthrie, as well as publishing groups from Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.

A French publishing group remains opposed to the revised settlement. Google is currently fighting a French court ruling fining the company for showing digital snippets from books in that country.