Supporters press for Google Books settlement

The deadline for comments to the court on the proposed deal is Tuesday

A proposed settlement between Google and book publishers and authors will give huge new advantages to students, minorities and disabled people, supporters said Thursday.

The settlement, which would allow Google to digitize and sell millions of books, will allow students to access the world's great books without traveling to a few select libraries, said Gregory Cendana, president of the United States Student Association, speaking during a press conference.

"Today, millions of books are accessible only to the privileged few who are accepted to universities and can actually afford to attend," Cendana said.

"With Google Books, any student anywhere in the U.S. will have the books in the greatest libraries of the world at their fingertips. The United States Student Association believes that education is a right, and should be accessible for any student regardless of their socioeconomic background and identity."

With a deadline for filing comments on the proposed settlement coming Tuesday, several groups talked about their support for the Google Books settlement.

Among the groups participating in the press conference were the American Association of People with Disabilities, the Computer and Communications Industry Association, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Federation of the Blind and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

Many of the groups repeated their earlier support for the book deal, even as opponents of the settlement also voiced their concerns. On Wednesday, Amazon.com, a competitor of Google's in the digital books market, filed a court brief opposing the settlement.

The proposed agreement "creates a cartel of authors and publishers... operating with virtually no restrictions on its actions, with the potential to raise book prices and reduce output to the detriment of consumers and new authors or publishers who would compete with the cartel members," Amazon said in the complaint.

Microsoft and Yahoo have also opposed the deal, and the German government filed objections this week, saying the settlement could take away rights of German authors.

Privacy groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have also raised concerns that Google will build a huge database of information about what its customers read. EFF wants Google to ensure against government snooping into the book records and to track book records for less than 30 days.

But Andrew Imparato, president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities, said the Google Books service would not only open up a huge number of new books to the blind, but also provide inexpensive books to low-income people and people who have problems with mobility.

People with disabilities are "disproportionately a low-income population," Imparato said. "The fact that people can go online and get access to books and not have to deal with transportation and not have to get to a library ... or a book store is a huge benefit for people with disabilities."

Google's digitized book service will tear down barriers for people living in low-income areas, added Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. "We see access to knowledge as a civil right," he said.

"Information enables individuals to learn, to create and to pursue their dreams. Access to knowledge defines the meaning of equal opportunity in a democratic society."

The deadline for filing comments on the proposed settlement with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York is Tuesday at 10 a.m. EDT. The deadline for authors to object is Friday, and a court hearing on the settlement is scheduled for Oct. 7.

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