The Justice Department late Friday urged a federal judge to reject a controversial settlement between Google Inc., the Authors Guild and the American Assn. of Publishers, citing concerns that the agreement could run afoul of antitrust, class action and copyright laws.
At the same time, Justice officials proposed modifications that would make the settlement pass muster, saying the proposal should not be entirely derailed because it has "potential for important societal benefits."
Google said that it was "considering the points raised by the department" and that it looked forward "to addressing them as the court proceedings continue."
The issue concerns an ambitious project that Google launched in 2004 to scan millions of books and make their contents searchable online. In 2006, the Authors Guild and the publishers filed lawsuits, claiming copyright violation.
They settled a year ago, agreeing to create an independent body to collect 67% of the revenue generated by selling access to the digital collection created by Google and distribute the money to authors and publishers.
A hearing before Federal District Court Judge Denny Chin has been scheduled for Oct. 7 to determine whether the pact should be approved.
In recent months, many groups have voiced concerns over whether the agreement would give Google too much pricing power and whether the Mountain View, Calif., company would adequately safeguard reader privacy.
Consumer Watchdog praised the move by Justice officials. "This is a victory for consumers and the broader public interest," said a group advocate, John Simpson.
Because the Justice Department is not a party in the case, it has limited influence in whether the settlement is ultimately approved by the court.
Rather, the brief foreshadows what, if any, regulatory actions the department might take should the settlement receive Judge Chin's blessing.
"The brief is urging the judge against approving it outright or rejecting it outright," said James Grimmelmann, a professor at New York Law School. "The overall message from Justice is that there are a lot of good things in this settlement. It doesn't work in its current form, but it's fixable."