Amazon, Microsoft, Yahoo! to oppose Google book project


June 18, 2010 Updated Aug 21, 2009 at 7:32 PM EDT

Google's ambitious book scanning project, already facing anti-trust scrutiny, a court review and privacy concerns, has run into another hurdle.

Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo! are reportedly planning to join several library associations and non-profit groups in opposing Google's settlement with authors and publishers which would allow it to digitize and sell millions of books.

Software giant Microsoft confirmed to AFP it has agreed to participate in the coalition -- which The New York Times said is tentatively being called the "Open Book Alliance" -- and a formal announcement was expected next week.

The Times said Yahoo! and Amazon were also participants in the alliance challenging the Google Book Search project.

There was no immediate reply from Yahoo! to a request for confirmation, while Amazon said "we do not comment on rumor and speculation."

Google reached a class action settlement in October of last year with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) to a copyright infringement lawsuit they filed in 2005.

Under the settlement, Google agreed to pay 125 million dollars to resolve outstanding claims and establish an independent "Book Rights Registry," which will provide revenue from sales and advertising to authors and publishers who agree to digitize their books.

Book prices will be set by the author with revenue from advertising to be divided 63-37 between the rightsholder and Google.

The settlement is currently being examined by the Justice Department and still needs the approval of a US District Court judge in New York.

The New York Times said members of the Open Book Alliance were likely to independently file objections with the court, which is set to hold a "fairness hearing" on the settlement on October 7.

Gary Reback, an anti-trust lawyer in Silicon Valley who is acting as counsel to the Alliance, told the Times the book deal "has enormous, far-reaching anticompetitive consequences that people are just beginning to wake up to."

Reback, who ironically helped persuade the Justice Department to file its anti-trust case against Microsoft in the 1990s, said the Open Book Alliance includes the Internet Archive.

The Internet Archive is a San Francisco non-profit which maintains a digital library of websites and also has its own book scanning project.

Microsoft, which entered into a 10-year Web search partnership with Yahoo! last month that set the stage for a joint offensive against Google, also had a project to create a vast digital library but shut it down in May of last year.

Online retail giant Amazon is a major player in the electronic book sector through its popular e-reader, the Kindle.

Peter Brantley, a director of the Internet Archive, said the Special Libraries Association, the New York Library Association and the American Society of Journalists and Authors were planning to join the Alliance.

Brantley told The Wall Street Journal members of the coalition all see problems with the settlement and are pushing for revisions, but not all necessarily want to see it blocked.

The Google Book Search project has also come under fire from groups worried about privacy.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic of the University of California at Berkeley recently wrote to Google chief executive Eric Schmidt expressing concerns about privacy aspects of the deal.

"Given the long and troubling history of government and third party efforts to compel libraries and booksellers to turn over records about readers, it is essential that Google Books incorporate strong privacy protections in both the architecture and policies of Google Book Search," they said.

Google spokesperson Gabriel Stricker defended the deal on Friday and noted that Microsoft had abandoned its own plans to create a digital library.

"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 said.

"That said, it's ironic that some of these complaints are coming from a company that abandoned its book digitization effort because it lacked 'commercial intent,'" he added.

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