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Google Book Search Settlement 2.0: the Latest Scorecard

We hope you enjoyed a holiday break from news of the Google Book Search settlement. A month into the new year, though, it’s time to check back in with the case. January 28 was the deadline to file objections to the revised version. Denny Chin, the federal district judge charged with reviewing the settlement, is scheduled to hold a fairness hearing on Settlement 2.0 on February 18th.

Here are some of the latest developments and reactions to catch our eye. If you have come across other useful commentary or reactions, please share those in the comments.

–A group of some 80 professors, led by Pamela Samuelson, a professor of law and information at the University of California at Berkeley, has sent Judge Chin a letter explaining some academic authors’ concerns over Settlement 2.0. The letter-signers write that “whatever the outcome of the fairness hearing, we believe strongly that the public good is served by the existence of digital repositories of books, such as the GBS corpus. We feel equally strongly that it would be better for Google not to have a monopoly on a digital database of these books.” The letter reiterates many of the points made by Ms. Samuelson et al. in an earlier letter sent to the court. The Daily Californian also reported that Hal Varian, a professor of economics, business, and information at Berkeley, circulated a campus memorandum in response to Ms. Samuelson’s most recent letter. “The agreement is not perfect, but I believe it to be a huge improvement over the status quo for authors, publishers, scholars, and the general public,” Mr. Varian said in the memo. “In my view it deserves the enthusiastic support of all Berkeley faculty.”

–The author Ursula K. Le Guin submitted a petition to the court with the signatures of 367 authors who dislike the proposed deal. “The free and open dissemination of information and of literature, as it exists in our public libraries, can and should exist in the electronic media. All authors hope for that,” the petition states. “But we cannot have free and open dissemination of information and literature unless the use of written material continues to be controlled by those who write it or own legitimate right in it. We urge our government and our courts to allow no corporation to circumvent copyright law or dictate the terms of that control.”

–On his blog The Laboratorium, Associate Professor James Grimmelmann of New York Law School—who has been bird-dogging the settlement since the beginning—has posted a nice list of “Essential Reading for Settlement Junkies.” It features the most interesting filings that came in as the January 28 deadline approached. Highlights: Amazon’s brief opposing the revised settlement is “a superbly executed piece of legal advocacy”; AT&T weighs in with a brief that confirms its “intense hatred of Google”; a group of Indian publishers objects too, saying that “while the scope of the proposed revised settlement has been narrowed by excluding India, it continues to provide Google with sweeping rights to exploit works of Indian authors/publishers under copyright protection without their express permission/consent.”

–The British government declined to object, noting that “the UK Publishers Association strongly supports the revised settlement.”

–The Open Book Alliance, whose memberhip includes GBS opponents Amazon.com, Microsoft, and the Internet Alliance, surprised no one by filing a friend-of-the-court brief opposing Settlement 2.0. “What one of Google’s founders hailed last fall in the pages of The New York Times as ‘A Library to Last Forever,’ a modern-day equivalent of the Library at Alexandria, now reveals itself as more likely a sham and a fraud on the public,” the alliance writes in one of the more rhetorically dramatic filings in the case.

–Lawrence Lessig, the Harvard law professor of Creative Commons fame, published a long essay in The New Republic about what he sees as the urgent need to redraft U.S. copyright law. Otherwise, he fears, “we are about to make a catastrophic cultural mistake.” For those short on time—or driven crazy by TNR’s eye-taxing fonts—TechCrunch boils down Mr. Lessig’s long argument to its essence here. See also Mr. Grimmelmann’s Laboratorium analysis of Mr. Lessig’s essay and reactions/rebuttals in the comments there.

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