Amazon.com head honcho Jeff Bezos was the latest to weigh in. Speaking at the Wired Business Conference in New York on June 15, Bezos, who built his e-commerce empire first by selling books over the Internet and shipping them all over the United States, was quoted as telling the crowd:
"It doesn't seem right that you should do something, kind of get a prize for violating a large series of copyrights, he said, adding that the settlement needs to be "revisited.""
His comments come a week after the New York Times and others reported that the Department of Justice is putting the Google book deal under the microscope, sending formal requests to Google, the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild and individual publishers for more information about the deal.
These ominous-sounding Civil Investigative Demands are the response to critics who have argued that Google's deal violates antitrust requirements.
What does that deal entail? Inked in October 2008, the deal called for Google to pay $125 million to put millions of books online and compensate authors for publishing their content. Google sells access to individual titles and subscriptions to its entire collection to libraries and other institutions.
Over $34 million of the settlement went to the creation of a Book Rights Registry, with the remainder going to authors and publishers whose books Google has already scanned for its project.
Authors, who may opt out of this program, decide what to charge to have their book read online and get paid a portion of a fee charged to the reader. Google receives 37 percent of the fee, with the publishers and authors splitting the remaining 63 percent for the book. Payments are distributed through the nonprofit Book Rights Registry.
But many folks cried bollocks, or, more specifically, argued that this agreement gave Google too much sway over the world's orphaned tomes, which are protected by copyrights but lack the fathers to protect them from abuse. Many people believe Google has too much sway as it is. Why should it get to publish the majority of world's books online with few alternatives?
Amazon.com, as my eWEEK colleague Nick Kolakowski pointed out this morning, doesn't like this deal because it wants to sell digital books through its Kindle devices. Amazon.com does not want to broker any book deals with Google. It unsettles the stomach.
Good for them; these malcontents and complainers crying foul will no doubt keep Google at bay, albeit armed with the feral teeth of Washington's hungriest pundit wolves. Articles about this warm the hearts of Jeffrey Chester, John Simpson and other Google opponents. As my editor and I were discussing this morning, it's good that some factions are fighting to keep Google on its toes.
But I am surprised. I naively thought Google would have it easier under the Obama-led administration than it did under the baleful eye of Bush. I assumed Bush was too wrapped up in ... other things to put the screws to Google.
I also assumed Obama, whom Google CEO Eric Schmidt courted at every yellow brick along the path to the White House, would give Google some unprecedented leeway. Perhaps I was wrong.
AP's Michael Liedke has a fine analysis of the Google and Obama admin relationship here, in which a Google lawyer proclaims to be a lover not a fighter. Coyly put when, especially when new and existing Web ad revenue streams are at stake.
If Google is getting tested over this book search deal, expect a rocky ride for the company going forward in the current administration. The more I think about it, the more I believe Obama and the soldiers in his administration can make names for themselves by heading off Google before it becomes the Microsoft of the 21st century.
Do you think Google is already there?