Barring more legal maneuvering, the proposed Google Books Settlement - which would have cleared the way for Google to scan, digitize, and distribute of millions of in-copyright but out-of-print works - will not stand as is. This afternoon, Judge Denny Chin rejected the settlement, agreeing with opponents that it would give Google an unfair advantage.
U.S. Circuit Judge Chin expressed his opinions in a court document refreshingly light on legalese. He wrote, "While the digitization of books and the creation of a universal digital library would benefit many, the ASA [Amended Settlement Agreement] would simply go too far. It would permit this class action . . . to implement a forward-looking business arrangement that would grant Google significant rights to exploit entire books, without permission of the copyright owners."
Then Chin continued, "Indeed, the ASA would give Google a significant advantage over competitors, rewarding it for engaging in wholesale copying of copyrighted works without permission, while releasing claims well beyond those presented in the case."
Finally, the judge finished, "I conclude that the ASA is not fair, adequate, and reasonable. As the United States and other objectors have noted, many of the concerns raised in the objections would be ameliorated if the ASA were converted from an 'opt-out' settlement to an 'opt-in' settlement."
Google hasn't yet said much in response. It's possible the search giant will follow Chin's opt-in suggestion; it would almost certainly be the quickest and easiest way to resolve the matter, which has been in lawyers' hands for years.
Or perhaps, given that Google is in no apparent hurry and has plenty of cash, the company will appeal Chin's decision.
As always, we'll be sure to continue following the situation.