Publishing giant HarperCollins plans to keep its books under digital lock and key to defend against a growing threat from Internet search engines book search features.
By doing so, the publisher can stop unwanted online interests "from just grabbing our books and sending them all over the Internet," said HarperCollins Group Vice President Brian Murray.
The plans set in motion the likelihood that major search engines must pay to access the digital warehouse under construction at HarperCollins, and presumably the other book publishers following its lead.
That could deter the breadth of online library projects under way at Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and other major search engines.
But many of the details are yet to be decided upon.
Starting in the next few days, HarperCollins will begin "getting its digital house in order" by soliciting ideas from technology vendors about how it should proceed with its plans, Murray said.
For now, plans are to convert a 20,000 title archive, and the 3,500 or so new books it publishes a year, into copies that can be stored on computers to be accessed using the Internet.
By doing so, HarperCollins retains the control it feels is slowly eroding as Internet search engines begin developing online book searching programs.
"We will own the files and we will control their use and their terms of their use," he said. "Well use digital rights management so they cant be copied."
Representatives for Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc, the No. 1 and No. 2 Internet search engines, didnt return calls seeking comment.
Murray said many of the most basic questions have yet to be decided.
So far, HarperCollins and its owner, News Corp., have given little thought yet to the business terms to access the digital warehouse, and say they still are unsure if theyll actually build their own digitizing plants and sever farms, or hire a third party to do all the work, Murray said.
But the motivation is clear. Major Internet search engines Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp.s MSN represent a powerful force clawing away at the control that the book industry once maintained over its product.
Each search engine is at various stages of making its own digital copies of the books to make available to the public.
Although the online libraries are now tightly controlled, theres widespread fear of abuse and copyright infringement.
Google already let its registered users search a growing number of books for any term or phrase.
In return, they get snippets containing the word or phrase. Also, entire works are available to be read online.
Googles book project has generated the most controversy.
The search giant has been criticized for a policy that led it to scan books without first getting the authors permission.
Yahoo and Microsoft, which plan similar efforts, will first seek the rights to make copies for distribution first and scan the books into their databases later.
Google believes it has sorted out the issue. However, the company continues to face copyright infringement lawsuits from groups representing publishers and authors.