NEW YORK -A federal judge set a Nov. 9 deadline Wednesday for submission of a revised agreement in the battle over Google Inc.'s effort to get digital rights to millions of out-of-print books. Then the debate over the fairness of the plan will resume.
U.S. District Judge Denny Chin set the deadline after a lawyer for authors told the judge that Google and lawyers for authors and publishers were working around the clock to reach a new deal by early November.
The $125 million agreement was being renegotiated after it was heavily criticized by many of the more than 400 submissions Chin received prior to a fairness hearing originally scheduled for Wednesday.
The biggest blow came in papers filed last month by the Justice Department, which said the deal "raises significant legal concerns." The agency wrote that it was likely to conclude the agreement breaks federal antitrust law.
The Justice Department also said that the deal could decrease competition among U.S. publishers and drive up prices for consumers because Google might gain a monopoly on out-of-print books that are protected by copyright but whose writers' whereabouts are unknown.
The head of the U.S. Copyright Office testified in a House Judiciary Committee last month that parts of the agreement were "fundamentally at odds with the law."
The original deal was announced by Mountain View, Calif.-based Google and the publishing industry last October to resolve two copyright lawsuits contesting the book scanning plans.
Michael Boni, a lawyer for authors, told the judge Wednesday that the new agreement would contain amendments to the original deal to make it acceptable to the Justice Department.
William F. Cavanaugh, a deputy assistant attorney general, told the judge that the government has been in continuing discussions with the parties.
However, he said the government was not yet aware of what the final deal will look like.
He said he expected "meetings in the near term to go over whatever their proposal is."
Cavanaugh asked that the judge give the government a week to 10 days after any deadline for objections to be submitted for the Justice Department to prepare its analysis of the new deal.
At one point, Chin asked what will happen if negotiations break down and no deal is reached.
Google lawyer Daralyn Durie reassured the judge, saying: "The parties' expectation is we will be able to reach agreement."
Chin did not set deadlines for when objections will be required to be submitted but said he expected he will only allow objections to any new provisions, since core features of the agreement are expected to remain intact.
"Everyone has a pretty good idea what's on the table," he said. "Targeting the changes, I think, is the right way to do it."
The Open Book Alliance, which includes Microsoft Corp., Yahoo Inc., Internet bookseller Amazon.com Inc., other companies and nonprofit organizations, said the deadline for a new agreement was too soon.
"Any revisions to the settlement that would resolve the flaws identified by the Department of Justice and other objectors must be fundamental in scope," organization co-founder Peter Brantley said in a statement. "This is not the time for shortcuts."
The group also criticized what it called "secret, back room negotiations" that exclude those who have voiced objections.
After the Justice Department said it probably violates antitrust law, plaintiffs including The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers began renegotiating with Google.
In a lighter moment Wednesday, Chin noted the irony in recent weeks as his office staff was forced to feed thousands of pages of documents submitted to him about the settlement into a single scanner so they could appear in electronic form in the court's computer system.
"We were scanning for four days," he said. "In this case of all cases there ought to be an electronic way of handling this."