Amazon Revs Rivalry with Google over Book Search

 
 
By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-09-03
 
 
 

Amazon dramatically opposed Google's Book Search settlement in a 49-page legal brief filed Sept. 1 with the U.S. District Court in New York presiding over the deal.  

The controversial deal, which is being studied by the Justice Department, calls for Google to scan millions of books online and charge users to read them, sharing the proceeds with authors and publishers.

Amazon, which competes with Google by scanning books to sell through its Kindle electronic reader, said it is opposed to the agreement because it would enable Google to cultivate a monopoly over millions of "orphan works," or those books for whom a copyright holder cannot be found. Amazon also said Google, authors and publishers would have the power to fix prices at will.

Amazon, which along with Microsoft and Yahoo is also part of the Open Book Alliance geared to oppose Google's bid, also moved to appeal to the court's sense of federal loyalty when it claimed: "The proposed settlement usurps the role of Congress in legislating solutions to the complex issues raised by the interplay between new technologies and the nation's copyright laws."

The district court is currently weighing whether or not to approve the agreement Google inked last October. Parties have until Sept. 8 to submit their support or opposition to the deal, which the court is expected to hold a hearing on Oct. 7. Amazon said it would attend that hearing.

Google, meanwhile, has swatted aside the protestations by Amazon and the Open Book Alliance, calling them sour grapes by competitors. While Amazon remains a rival, Microsoft and Yahoo both tried to offer online book search but gave up.  

Despite the best efforts of Amazon, the Open Book Alliance and other opponents, Google Book Search has several supporters. The short list includes: Sony, which is offering Google Books through its own Sony Reader; Interread, which is offering the same through Coolerbooks; the European Union; and various civil rights groups.

However, the most dramatic support may have come via an Aug. 28 research note from Bernstein Research's Jeffrey Lindsay. The analyst claimed Google is on the verge of an "astonishing achievement that will benefit the U.S. for generations, bridging a major part of the digital divide and giving the country a global lead in a key area - scholarship."

While he acknowledges the lack of sufficient competition and privacy are valid concerns for Google Book Search, Lindsay makes a solid argument for why Google should be allowed to go ahead with its project:

On balance we think the enormous potential good of the Google Books database would be sufficient to warrant allowing the company to move ahead at this stage, given that the company has developed a national asset that would have taken decades to achieve otherwise - if ever. Whether fully intended or not, Google's efforts will give rural and inner city students direct access to the same knowledge and data that is currently only truly available in the finest academic institutions. With good regulation this repository of human knowledge and ideas could be kept accessible to millions at low or zero cost while ensuring the rights to knowledge and privacy set out in the Bill of Rights could be preserved for generations.  

Meanwhile, civil rights, disability and education groups are hosting a call at noon EDT to discuss their support for the settlement.

Read more about this issue on TechMeme here.

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