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U.S. Justice Department to investigate Google settlement

The Google book search settlement (for background, see here and here) faces yet another hurdle. The New York Times is reporting today that the U.S. Justice Department has confirmed its intention to investigate whether or not the settlement violates American antitrust laws. According to the Times:

The United States has reviewed public comments expressing concern that aspects of the settlement agreement may violate the Sherman Act, wrote William F. Cavanaugh, a deputy assistant attorney general. At this preliminary stage, the United States has reached no conclusions as to the merit of those concerns or more broadly what impact this settlement may have on competition. However, we have determined that the issues raised by the proposed settlement warrant further inquiry.

Antitrust experts said the letter was the latest indication that the Justice Department is seriously examining complaints that the agreement would grant Google an unfair monopoly over millions of so-called orphan works, books whose authors or rights holders are unknown or cannot be found.

The U.S. government has been given a deadline of Sept. 18 to present its views, which will be considered at a fairness hearing scheduled for Oct. 7.