Justice Dept. Seeks Details On Google Deal

By Brian Womack and James Rowley
Bloomberg News
Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Justice Department has asked Google and publishers for information about the settlement of a book-scanning dispute, signaling that a federal probe is underway.

Google has received a formal inquiry from the Justice Department, said Adam Kovacevich, a company spokesman. The Authors Guild received a civil investigative demand last week, said Paul Aiken, executive director of the New York-based group, which was part of the settlement.

Google, which is creating an online book database by scanning millions of titles, reached a $125 million deal with publishers last year to settle copyright issues. The agreement could make Google the main online source for millions of out-of-print books, raising antitrust concerns.

Hachette Book Group, a publishing company in New York, also received a formal request for information from the Justice Department, said spokeswoman Sophie Cottrell. Gina Talamona, a spokeswoman for DOJ, declined to comment.

The settlement was designed to end years of hostility between Google and publishers.

Google, which began scanning books in 2004, uses volumes from Harvard University, the New York Public Library and other sources. The project lets users search books, bringing up pages or excerpts that contain sought-for terms.

The company was sued in 2005 by the Authors Guild, Pearson's Penguin unit, McGraw-Hill, John Wiley & Sons and Simon & Schuster. They claimed the digitizing process infringed their copyrights.

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