Amazon, Microsoft, Yahoo Take Stand Against Google Books

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Technology heavyweights Amazon, Microsoft, and Yahoo have signed on with the Internet Archive to form the Open Book Alliance, a coalition that’s seeking to crystalize opposition to a legal settlement that could give Google digital rights to millions of copyrighted books. The group, which will also include a number of non-profit organizations, seeks to defeat a 2008 settlement agreement to two lawsuits that would effectively make Google a primary source for many online books.

In the settlement agreement, Google agreed to pay some $125 million and create a Book Rights Registry, whereby authors and publishers could register copyrighted works and receive compensation through the sale of those books via Google. Under the deal, 70 percent of the revenue would go back to the copyright holders, while Google would pocket the remaining 30 percent of the revenue. Under the deal, Google would also be permitted to digitize so-called “orphan books,” that are still in copyright but for which there is no clear rights-holder. That might not seem like a big deal, but most industry watchers estimate at least half the books published since 1923 are now orphaned, with some estimates ranging as high as 70 percent of all books in copyright.

The Internet Archive has been opposed to this settlement agreement from the outset, and clearly hopes having industry heavyweights like Microsoft, Yahoo, and Amazon on its side will add gravity to its arguments. The Internet Archive is also digitizing books, which it makes available for free. The U.S. Justice Department has also launched an antitrust investigation into the settlement.

Some objections to the settlement are commercial: why could Google be granted exclusive access to digitalizing millions of copyrighted works as the result of lawsuits for copyright violations? Other concerns center are privacy: a digital book market dominated by Google may create a situation where user’s individual reading habits can be monitored and tracked—and, lest that sound far-fetched, recall that the Bush administration authorized FBI investigators to scrutinize library lending records.

Google has argued the settlement will make millions of out-of-print titles available to the public, create revenues for authors and rights-holders, and will create competition in the digital books marketplace.

Comments on the proposed settlement must be filed by September 4; a hearing is scheduled in the southern district of New York in early October.

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