August 21, 2009

Microsoft, Yahoo, Amazon Oppose Google Book Project

A newly formed coalition of Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon is attempting to rally against Google's digital book ambitions and ultimately persuade a federal judge to block or revise the company's efforts, The Associated Press reported.

The Open Book Alliance is an attempt by the Internet Archive to stop Google's crusade to make digital copies of as many printed books as possible. With three of the world's best-known technology companies on board, the Open Book Alliance figures to make a dent in Google's ambitious project.

The Internet Archive's director of access, Peter Brantley, said Microsoft, Yahoo and an assortment of nonprofit groups have confirmed their intention to join the Open Book alliance. Amazon has yet to comment because the group hasn't been formally announced yet.

The alliance will attempt to persuade the U.S. Justice Department that Google's broad settlement with authors and publishers could undermine competition in the digital book market, where electronic readers like Amazon.com's Kindle are thriving.

U.S. District Judge Denny Chin is scheduled to review the possible fallout from Google's book settlement in an Oct. 7 court hearing in New York.

Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon are challenging the class-action lawsuit settlement that Google reached with authors and publishers 10 months ago. With Amazon's dependence on book sales and increasing its Kindle book reader sales, it likely has the most at stake.

If the class-action settlement is approved, Google plans to offer free access to some books through its search engine and sell others as part of a registry that will share revenue with authors and publishers.

But critics argue that Google will have too much pricing power and some are concerned about the company's ability to stockpile more personal data about the users of its search engines by tracking their book purchases.

Brantley said critics see many disadvantages in this settlement. However, a wide cross-section of libraries, colleges and authors has endorsed Google's book settlement.

Google maintains that the settlement will benefit consumers, who will have easier access to potentially valuable information now gathering dust in remote library shelves. The company also said authors and publishers will be able to make more money from out-of-print books.

Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker said 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.

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

Stricker was alluding to Microsoft, which abandoned its efforts to make digital book copies to focus on more profitable online opportunities.

If Google's expanded index of digital books propels even more traffic to its search engine, both Microsoft and Yahoo could suffer.

Last month, Microsoft and Yahoo announced a planned partnership in search in an effort to shift advertising away from Google. Microsoft will run the search engine on Yahoo's web site in return for 12 percent of the revenue generated by accompanying ad sales.

But the proposal has yet to be approved by the Justice Department.


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