Google Rises to Microsoft, Yahoo, Amazon Google Book Search Challenge

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-08-22

Google Rises to Microsoft, Yahoo, Amazon Google Book Search Challenge

Opposition to Google's Book Search settlement with authors and publishers continues to mount, as Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon are joining a new coalition to influence the Department of Justice to force Google to revise the deal.

The non-profit Internet Archive group next week plans to announce the Open Book Alliance, a gathering of companies and library associations poised to challenge Google's settlement with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers. As part of the deal, Google agreed to scan the world's books online and charge users for access to them.

With Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon leading the way, the Open Book Alliance poses the biggest single front of opposition to the deal yet. Microsoft and Yahoo, whose search businesses may suffer from traffic to the Google Books site, have confirmed their participation to eWEEK. Amazon, which offers digital books through its Kindle electronic reader, declined to comment, though it is likely it is concerned Google could impose unfair pricing schemes for books it licenses.

The coalition is co-led by Internet Archive Director Peter Brantley and Gary Reback, an antitrust attorney in Silicon Valley who became famous for leading the Department of Justice's antitrust investigation against Microsoft.

Brantley told eWEEK that he is forming the Open Book Alliance because many groups are concerned the Google Book Search settlement impinges competition and innovation, raising antitrust issues. Brantley and others, such as the Special Libraries Association, the New York Library Association and the American Society of Journalists and Authors, are challenging Google's contention that the agreement will lead to an open marketplace dedicated to helping users find more books online.

"While individual organizations might choose different paths to suggest how they want to change the settlement, we all had similar concerns," Brantley said in a phone interview Aug. 21.

Asked whether the Open Book Alliance wants the DOJ to dissolve the deal entirely, Brantley said: "The goal is not so much that the goal is to kill the settlement. Really, what we're trying to do is suggest some possible paths that might create a more open and competitive market for books."

Google didn't flinch at this threat. Asked to comment on the Open Book Alliance, Google spokesperson Gabriel Stricker told eWEEK Aug. 21: "The Google Books settlement is injecting more competition into the digital books space, so it's understandable why our competitors might fight hard to prevent more competition."

Stricker also offered a parting shot to Microsoft, noting that "it's ironic that some of these complaints are coming from a company that abandoned its book digitization effort because it lacked "'commercial intent'."

Open Book Alliance Wants DOJ to Listen

Microsoft abandoned its Live Search Books effort in May 2008, ostensibly to focus on verticals with high commercial intent, according to this post from Satya Nadella, senior vice president, research and development, for Microsoft's Online Services Division.

In the October 2008 settlement with authors and publishers, Google announced its own plan for book search; if the plan comes to fruition it would make the search giant the de facto online book repository for the world's books. The Internet Archive is building an Internet library to allow researchers, historians and scholars to access historical works online.

This issue dates back to 2005, when authors and publishers filed a class-action lawsuit against Google because they were concerned Google's bid to scan millions of books from libraries and offer them online would violate their copyrights. In the settlement, Google agreed to pay authors and publishers $125 million for the right to scan and offer the books online to individuals and libraries for fees. Google also agreed to share sales from Google Book Search with authors and publishers.

While companies fear Google's control over the e-book market, advocates and other parties are opposing the deal for a range of concerns. Some fear the deal gives Google too much control over digitized books, particularly over "orphan works," or those books that are out of print and whose authors or rights holders are unknown. Others are concerned that Google has not allowed for provisions to protect readers' privacy.

In recent weeks, the American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as professors from the University of California, have written objections or called for amendments to the deal.

Soon, the Open Book Alliance will train its guns on Google. Brantley said he became aware Reback held a similar concern about the deal and contacted him. Together, they reached out to companies for help and to unify and provide a common voice to articulate the set of concerns the various parties have about the deal.

Brantley said he and Reback also realized a group with Internet giants and Google rivals Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon would capture the attention of the DOJ, which is also investigating the Google Book Search pact.

Judge Denny Chin is reviewing for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Chin is holding a fairness hearing Oct. 7. Concerned parties have until Sept. 4 to file objections with the court. The Open Book Alliance is not filing an opposition to the court, according to Brantley.

Read more about this challenge on TechMeme here.

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