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Coalition Battles Google Over Digitized Books

August 27, 2009

Microsoft, Yahoo!, Amazon, and non-profit library associations have joined forces to fight a legal settlement which would allow Google to digitize and sell books.

The coalition, called the Open Content Alliance, has expressed concerns about “serious legal, competitive, and policy issues” surrounding the Google book project.

The group said they are countering the proposed Google Book Settlement in its current form.

In October of last year, Google reached a class action settlement on a copyright infringement lawsuit brought on by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers (AAP).

In the settlement, Google agreed to pay $125 million for outstanding claims and will also establish an independent “Book Rights Registry” that will pay authors and publishers who agree to digitize their books.

The settlement is already under scrutiny from the US Justice Department.

Peter Brantley and Gary Reback, co-chairs of the alliance, said the settlement “creates an unprecedented monopoly and price fixing cartel.”

“Just as Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press more than 700 years ago ushered in a new era of knowledge sharing, the mass digitization of books promises to once again revolutionize how we read and discover books,” they wrote in a recent blog post.

“But 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,” they added.

“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 is also a director of the Internet Archive, which has its own book scanning project.

Rebak is an anti-trust lawyer who previously persuaded the Justice Department to file an anti-trust case against Microsoft in the 1990s.

A US District Court judge in New York must approve the settlement, while a “fairness hearing” on the deal will be held on October 7.

Gabriel Stricker, a Google spokesperson, defended the deal saying “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.”

Microsoft, which recently entered a 10-year Web search deal with Yahoo!, also had a digital library project, but decided against continuing with it in May 2008.

Amazon has a stake in the electronic book market also with its popular e-reader, the Kindle.

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