Three technology heavyweights are joining a coalition to fight Google’s
attempt to create what could be the world’s largest virtual library.
Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo will sign up to the Open Book Alliance being spearheaded by the Internet Archive.
They oppose a legal settlement that could make Google the main source for many online works.
"Google is trying to monopolise the library system," the Internet Archive’s founder Brewster Kahle told BBC News.
"If this deal goes ahead, they’re making a real shot at being ‘the’ library and the only library."
Back in 2008, the search giant reached an agreement with publishers and
authors to settle two lawsuits that charged the company with copyright
infringement for the unauthorised scanning of books.
In that settlement, Google agreed to pay $125m (£76m)
to create a Book Rights Registry, where authors and publishers could
register works and receive compensation. Authors and publishers would
get 70% from the sale of these books with Google keeping the remaining
Google would also be given the right to digitise orphan
works. These are works whose rights-holders are unknown, and are
believed to make up an estimated 50-70% of books published after 1923.
Comments on the deal have to be lodged by 4 September.
In early October, a judge in the Southern district of New York will
consider whether or not to approve the class-action suit.
In a separate development, the US Department of Justice
is conducting an anti-trust investigation into the impact of the
Critics have claimed the settlement will transform the future of the
book industry and of public access to the cultural heritage of mankind
embodied in books.
"The techniques we have built up since the enlightenment of having open
access, public support for libraries, lots of different organisational
structures, lots of distributed ownership of books that can be
exchanged, resold and repackaged in different ways – all of that is
being thrown out in this particular approach," warned Mr Kahle.
The non-profit Internet Archive has long been a vocal
opponent of this agreement. It is also in the business of scanning
books and has digitised over half a million of them to date. All are
As the 4 September deadline approaches, the number of
groups and organisations voicing their opposition is growing. But with
three of the world’s best-known technology companies joining the
chorus, the Open Book Alliance can expect to make headlines the world
Microsoft and Yahoo have confirmed their participation.
However, Amazon has so far declined to comment because the alliance has
not yet been formally launched.
"All of us in the coalition are oriented to foster a
vision for a more competitive marketplace for books," said Peter
Brantley, the Internet Archive’s director of access.
"We feel that if approved, Google would earn a
court-sanctioned monopoly and the exploitation of a comprehensive
collection of books from the 20th Century."
Much of the focus of the proposed settlement has been on anti-trust and
anti-competitive concerns, but just as many are worried about privacy.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU of Northern California and
the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group wrote to Google to ask the company
to "assure Americans that Google will maintain the security and freedom
that library patrons have long had: to read and learn about anything…
without worrying that someone is looking over their shoulder or could
retrace their steps".
"We simply don’t like the settlement in its current form," said Consumer Watchdog advocate John Simpson.
"There are serious questions about privacy and Google seems to be
taking the view ‘let us put this in place and we will do the right
thing down the road’. That is simply not good enough."
The American Libraries Association (ALA) agrees.
"We do think the product in essence is good but the proposed settlement
asks us to trust Google and the other parties a little too much," the
ALA’s associate director Corey Williams told BBC News.
"When it comes to privacy, the agreement is silent on
the issue and with regard to what Google intends to do with the data it
collects. It’s a great idea but it requires more trust than I think we
feel comfortable being able to extend at this point," said Ms Williams.
‘Brave new world’
In its defence, Google has argued that the deal brings great benefits
to authors and will make millions of out-of-print books widely
available online and in libraries.
In a statement, the company 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
Despite the increasing tide of criticism over the settlement, there are some who believe there is not that much to fear.
Michelle Richmond is the author of New York Times best seller The Year
of Fog, which is also being turned into a movie starring Rachel Weiss.
"The thing I keep hearing from authors is ‘I don’t know
what this settlement really means’. But this is the brave new world and
we don’t really know where it is going," Ms Richmond told BBC News
"Most authors work for so little and start from the
point of we are doing this for the love it. But when there is this
company that has nothing to do with the creation of the book or its
publication, I think a lot of authors are concerned about this being a
portal to greater access to their work without compensation for