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Tech Giants Unite Against Google


Fri, Aug 21, 2009 at 9:58 am

    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

    ‘Open access’

    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
    available free.

    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
    more competition."

    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

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