Amazon.com, Microsoft and Yahoo Aug. 26 joined the Internet Archive in launching the Open Book Alliance to challenge Google's Book Search settlement with publishers and authors, which if approved by a U.S. district court would allow Google to scan the world's books onto the Web and offer them to readers for fees.
eWEEK reported on the forming Open Book Alliance Aug. 22; the group, which also includes major libraries and literary organizations, took its Website public Aug. 26. The coalition aims to effect changes in the October 2008 settlement between Google and the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild.
"A digital library controlled by a single company and small group of colluding publishers would inevitably lead to higher prices and subpar service for consumers, libraries, scholars and students," said Internet Archive Director Peter Brantley and antitrust lawyer Gary Reback, who are serving as co-chairmen for the Open Book Alliance. "The public interest demands that any mass book digitization and distribution effort be undertaken in the open, grounded in sound public policy and mindful of the need to promote long-term benefits for consumers rather than those of a few commercial interests."
Brantley told eWEEK in an interview that the goal is not to kill the settlement, but to suggest some possible paths that might create a more open and competitive market for books.
Google, which scoffed at Microsoft's participation in the alliance because the company closed its own book search service in 2008, remains unfazed by the challenge. A Google spokesperson told eWEEK Aug. 26, "This sounds like the Sour Grapes Alliance. 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."
Amazon.com, Microsoft and Yahoo are the competitors Google is referring to. Amazon.com, which is offering digital books via its Kindle electronic reader, stands to be affected by the Google Book Search settlement. Microsoft and Yahoo are threatened by the additional search engine traffic Google will cultivate with its Google Books site should the deal pass muster.
Not all of the Open Book Alliance members are Google's rivals. Also in the alliance are the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, the New York Library Association, the Small Press Distribution literary arts organization and the Special Libraries Association.
The deal is pending approval before the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Authors and rights holders may opt out of settlement by Sept. 4, which is also the final day parties may submit objections to the district court. District Court Judge Denny Chin will make his decision Oct. 7, nearly one year after Google agreed to pay $125 million in the settlement for the right to begin scanning books online.
The Open Book Alliance is not the only group challenging the deal. Some parties are concerned that the deal will give give Google too much control over the digitization of the world's books, particularly with regard to so-called orphan books, those books that are out of print and where the authors or rights holders are unknown. Author groups and consumer advocates are concerned that Google does not adequately account for reader privacy in its Book Search infrastructure.
The deal is also being scrutinized by the Justice Department on antitrust grounds.