Preliminary Court Approval of Google Book Settlement; Final Approval Hearing Set

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The Associate Press reported on Monday evening that the court has given preliminary approval to the settlement negotiated between Google and book authors and publishers over the use of copyrighted materials in the Google Book Search Library project. In giving preliminary approval, Judge John E. Sprizzo authorized the publication of the notice of settlement and set a final settlement fairness hearing for June 11, 2009.


The judge's decision sets in motion a series of events over the next eight months:

January 5, 2009, the Notice Commencement Date: Starting on this date, Class Counsel (the lawyers representing the authors and publishers) will begin sending the Notice of Settlement to settlement class members. On or before January 12, 2009, the Class Counsel will start publishing the settlement's Summary Notice [PDF] to a wide, varied, and impressive quantity of publications [PDF]. All of this notification must be completed by February 27, 2009.

May 5, 2009: The deadline for members of the settlement class (authors and publishers) to op-out of the settlement. It is also the deadline to declare an objection to the settlement, file a notice of intent to appear at the final settlement hearing, or for members of the class to establish counsel of their own other than the counsel appointed for the class.

June 11, 2009 at 1pm, the Final Settlement/Fairness Hearing: The hearing will be held in courtroom 14C, United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse, 500 Pearl Street, New York, NY. "The purpose of the Hearing shall be to determine: (a) whether the terms and conditions of the proposed Settlement Agreement are fair, reasonable, and adequate; (b) whether to certify the Class and the Sub-Classes for the purposes of the settlement; and (c) whether the proposed Settlement Agreement should be approved by the Court and judgment entered thereon."

In the Grand Scheme of Things...

In reading Judge Sprizzo's order granting preliminary settlement approval, I was struck all over again by the scope of what is being undertaken in the settlement. Paragraph 21 of the order (with emphasis added) is:

Members of the Settlement Class and Sub-Classes will be excluded from the settlement only if they comply with the opt-out procedures set forth in the Notice and Settlement Agreement, which procedures are hereby approved as fair and reasonable. Unless they have excluded themselves, members of the Settlement Class and Sub-Classes shall be bound by all determinations and judgments in this case relating to the proposed Settlement, whether favorable or unfavorable, including the dismissal of the Action with prejudice and the release of Google Releasees, Fully Participating Library Releasees, Cooperating Library Releasees, Public Domain Library Releasees and Other Library Releasees from liability to members of the class. Persons who timely exclude themselves from the Class in accordance with the procedures prescribed in the Notice and Settlement Agreement will not be bound by any orders or judgments entered in the Action to the proposed settlement, and shall not receive any benefits provided in the proposed Settlement Agreement in the event it is approved by the Court.

I've often said "I'm not a lawyer, but..." -- then go on to give a non-lawyerly opinion. This time I'm saying "I'm not a lawyer, and" I don't get how the court has the power to do what it is doing. The number of people in the settlement class is huge -- all of the authors who have self-published and/or retained copyright to their works and all of the publishers over the last eight decades, not to mention their heirs (since the current incarnation of copyright law extends the rights 70 years past the death of the author). It would seem that in the span of four months (January 5th to May 5th), all of these people need to see the notice and make a decision on whether they want to op-out of the settlement. Tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of people need to decide whether they agree with a sweeping new Books Rights Registry and what will probably become a template of an agreement covering retrospective, had-not-been-conceived digital rights.

Is there precedence for this?

I first found announcement of the judge's order in a posting at The Cite. There is also an article over in ars technica about it.

The text was modified to update a link from to on July 13th, 2011.

The text was modified to update a link from to on November 13th, 2012.

The text was modified to update a link from to on November 13th, 2012.

The text was modified to update a link from to on August 22nd, 2013.

The text was modified to update a link from to on August 22nd, 2013.

The text was modified to update a link from to on August 22nd, 2013.