The US Department of Justice has opened a formal investigation into the settlement between Google and book publishers over the rights to publish books online.

Google settled a lawsuit in late 2008 filed by a number of major publishing groups relating to its plans for Google Books.

According to the terms of that settlement, Google has the right to digitally publish books that are out of print by still protected by copyright law – with the onus being on individual authors to opt out should they not wish for their works to be available via Google Books.

Unfair monopoly?

As TechRadar reported earlier this year, Critics of that deal have suggested that this effectively gives Google an unfair monopoly in terms of providing digitised versions of out-of-print books.

As the Guardian notes: "Anyone else who wished to publish those books would have to individually negotiate with their authors, many of whom can not be located very easily."

Judge Denny Chin is responsible for looking over the issues surrounding that settlement made late last year until it is finally implemented in October 2009.

"The Antitrust Division is investigating the possibility of anticompetitive practices involving digital-book intellectual-property rights and distribution," said Department of Justice rep Gina Talamona.

Google responds

In a statement, Google said: "The Department of Justice and several state attorneys general have contacted us to learn more about the impact of the settlement, and we are happy to answer their questions.

"It's important to note that this agreement is non-exclusive and if approved by the court, stands to expand access to millions of books in the US."

For more details on Google's online book library head over to Google Books

Via The Guardian