Supporters of Google's effort to create the world's largest digital library Internet told a federal judge Thursday that it would benefit society.
Marc Mauer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said the audio capabilities of Google's system "will give us access to 10 million books."
One of the opponents — which include authors, foreign governments, corporate rivals and even the U.S. Department of Justice — countered at a packed court hearing in Manhattan that Google's plans were more about commerce, not access to books.
"It's not going to be a great library, it's going to be a good store," said Sarah Canzoneri, a member of the Children's Book Guild and plaintiff in a lawsuit by authors and publishers.
U.S. District Judge Denny Chin already has read more than 500 submissions about a $125 million settlement aimed at ending a pair of 2005 lawsuits that tried to stop Google from scanning books into a gigantic online database.
On Thursday, he was hearing statements from interested parties before deciding whether changes made to a deal first announced in October 2008 are sufficient to withstand constitutional scrutiny.
"To end the suspense, I'm not going to rule today," he said at the start. "There is just too much to digest."
He added, "Voluminous materials have been submitted. There is a lot of repetition. Some of the submissions even quote other submissions."
In court papers submitted last week, Google Inc., which is based in Mountain View, California, defended its deal with authors by saying its digital library lives up to the purpose of copyright law, which is to create and distribute expressive works.
"No one seriously disputes that approval of the settlement will open the virtual doors to the greatest library in history, without costing authors a dime they now receive or are likely to receive if the settlement is not approved," Google said.
The Department of Justice said Google and the plaintiffs have made substantial improvements to the original settlement, but it said "substantial issues remain."
It said the new deal raised antitrust concerns and suffered from the same core issue as the original agreement because it establishes forward-looking business arrangements that "confer significant and possibly anticompetitive advantages on a single entity — Google."
Still, the Department of Justice said it believes an approvable settlement may be achievable, perhaps by requiring rights holders to opt in to the settlement.
France and Germany, which oppose the settlement, noted they support a European book-scanning project, Europeana, because it is in compliance with their laws and requires permission from copyright holders before books are scanned.
Obtaining permission beforehand is what Amazon.com Inc. said it did when it engaged in a similar book-scanning project. Amazon's lawyers oppose the Google settlement and have asked to address the court. Other Google rivals including Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. also oppose it.
Among authors opposing the deal are folk singer Arlo Guthrie and writer Catherine Ryan Hyde, whose novel "Pay it Forward" was adapted and released as a movie.
"While I believe that the proposed Google Books Settlement has the potential to provide authors with additional exposure and perhaps additional sources of revenue for their works," Hyde wrote, "I continue to believe that the proposed settlement as amended remains critically flawed and is unfair to authors in a number of crucial respects."
Lawyers for the plaintiffs who brought the 2005 lawsuits defended the settlement. Their submission to the judge said there were relatively few complaints, considering the ambitious plan to digitize all the world's books, and that many opponents "advance competitive and other parochial self-interests" that conflict with the broader interests of the publishing industry.