Sides Line Up to Slam and Support Google Book Search

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-09-08 Print this article Print

Today was the deadline for proponents and opponents of the Google Book Search settlement to file support for or positions against the deal.

Google Book Search is Google's conquest to scan the world's books online and offer them to users for fees, with authors and publishers taking cuts of the book and associated search ad sales. I've covered this in detail on this blog and on parent site

New York District Judge Denny Chin, who is weighing whether or not to approve the deal, extended the deadline for parties to say yay or nay from Sept. 4 until today. He will issue his decision Oct. 7 in a hearing.

The filings poured in today ahead of the deadline; my in-box is floating with them. Opponents such as the Amazon-, Microsoft- and Yahoo-backed Open Book Alliance fear Google is cultivating a monopoly in book search with designs on price fixing.

Open Book Alliance co-chair Gary Reback, who orchestrated the Justice Department's skewering of Microsoft for antitrust issues a decade ago, layered on the hyperbole thickly in a statement today:

Google and the plaintiff publishers secretly negotiated for 29 months to produce a horizontal price fixing combination, effected and reinforced by a digital book distribution monopoly. Their guile has cleared much of the field in digital book distribution, shielding Google from meaningful competition.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation last week argued the settlement does not adequately account for reader privacy even though Google created a privacy policy for Google Books. Today, the EFF hosted opposition from authors Jonathan Lethem, Bruce Schneier and others here. Schneier, a computer security expert, said:

I believe that the fear of tracking will create a chilling effect on my readers and reduce my readership, and therefore my revenue, from these books. Moreover, I write these books in order to participate in the public debate on security issues. Reduced readership negatively impacts my expressive interests as an author.

Google has plenty of supporters, most of whom are on the more tame side compared with the fire and brimstone of Reback and other earnest detractors.

However, Computer & Communications Industry Association President & CEO Ed Black tackled the antitrust allegation head-on:

For the past 20 years, I have dedicated my career to fighting against monopolies and this settlement isn't one. This settlement will increase competition for online book sales, and among books themselves. The legal framework promised by this settlement would help erase legal uncertainty and encourage others to enter the market and compete with Google, for the good of readers and rightsholders. CCIA continues to maintain its position that book indexing is fair use, and that only the threat of legal action by rights holders, not any actions by Google, suppresses would-be competitors to Google to enter the book search market. This settlement will increase certainty and promote market entry.

To aggregate support filings, Google today set up a special press Google Sites Website for Google Book Search supporters. Google asked me not to share the URL, but here is a screenshot:

Google Book Search support site.png

As you can see, the list of supporters is diverse, including civil rights groups, professors, universities and Google business partners such as Sony.

This is a major battle royal folks. The future of online book digitization lies in the hands of a district court judge, who has a lot to read during the next month or so before the hearing.

Then it will be his turn to tell the legion of high-tech parties, pundits, press, companies, advocacy groups, authors, publishers and miscellaneous concerns what he thinks.

What side will he take? I say he'll approve it but order Google to make some changes that will please consumer and privacy watchdogs. |

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