Tech giants oppose Google book project


June 18, 2010 Updated Aug 21, 2009 at 11:31 PM EDT

Google's vast book scanning plan, 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 non-profit groups and library associations in opposing the legal settlement with authors and publishers which would allow Google to digitize and sell millions of books.

Software giant Microsoft confirmed to AFP it has agreed to join what is to be known as the "Open Book Alliance" opposing the project while The New York Times said Yahoo! and Amazon were also participants.

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

Peter Brantley, a director of the Internet Archive, a San Francisco-based non-profit which maintains a digital library of websites and has its own book scanning project, told AFP the Open Book Alliance was expected to announce its membership next week.

"We've been concerned about the settlement since it emerged," he said, adding that it would give Google "an implicit monopoly over the commercialization of all copyrighted works from the 20th century.

"Google winds up in a monopoly position over a comprehensive collection of books able to extract monopoly prices either from institutional subscriptions or consumer purchases," he said. "What we're seeking are ways of redressing some of the inequities that a monopoly of access to books would grant.

"The motive is not to see the settlement overturned per se," he said. "We really want to see some competition in the marketplace."

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 against the Internet giant 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 or publisher 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, who is to hold a "fairness hearing" on the deal on October 7.

The project has not only come under fire from groups worried that the settlement is anti-competitive.

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 project.

"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.

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.

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