Flurry of last-minute objections to Google book project

10th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

The new objections raise issues such as privacy rights, compliance with copyright law and the potential for a Google-run monopoly, among others.

Washington -- Microsoft, the French government, privacy advocates and other groups filed last-minute objections on Tuesday to Google's ambitious plan to scan and sell millions of books online.

Batman and Superman publisher DC Comics, the National Writers Union, the National Coalition of Authors and French publisher Hachette also added their voices to the growing tide of opposition to Google's book-scanning project.

Coming out in support meanwhile was Sony Electronics of Japan, maker of the electronic book reader the Sony Reader, and a group of 32 US professors of law and economics.

Sony, which has an agreement with Google to make copyright-free books available on its e-reader, described the project as a "groundbreaking advancement for society" with the potential to "impact profoundly and positively the markets for both e-books and e-readers."

Google reached a class action settlement in October of last year with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers to a copyright infringement suit they filed against the Internet powerhouse in 2005.

Under the settlement, Google agreed to pay 125 million dollars to resolve outstanding claims and establish an independent "Book Rights Registry," which will provide revenue from sales and advertising to authors and publishers who agree to digitize their books.

A US District Court in New York is to hold a "fairness hearing" on the settlement on October 7 and the judge set Tuesday as the final day for the filing of briefs in the case.

The project is also facing anti-trust scrutiny from the US Justice Department, which has until September 18 to voice its opinion on the case.

Germany has already registered its opposition and France followed suit on Tuesday saying the project does not conform to either "intellectual property law or to competition law and constitutes a threat to cultural diversity."

Microsoft, which abandoned its own plans to create a digital library last year, said the settlement "confers on Google a new monopoly by authorizing Google (and Google alone) to engage in the wholesale commercial exploitation of entire copyrighted books.

"Millions of copyright owners around the world who did not participate in and do not even know about this litigation ... stand on the verge of having their copyrights infringed," the US software giant said.

Microsoft joined forces with Amazon and Yahoo! last month in forming an "Open Book Alliance" in opposition to the Google project, a coalition Google dubbed the "Sour Grapes Alliance."

The Open Book Alliance filed its own objections with the court on Tuesday and Amazon, which sells books online for its Kindle electronic reader, filed a separate brief against the project last week.

DC Comics, in its filing, said that "instead of respecting the interests of copyright owners, Google appears to have applied a 'copy first and negotiate later' approach.”

The settlement would "essentially provide it with legal rights to precisely that which it sought to take illegally," it said.

Consumer advocacy group Consumer Watchdog warned that "if the settlement were approved, it would give Google a default monopoly to books for which the rights holders cannot be located, resulting in unfair competitive advantages to Google in the search engine, electronic book sales, and other markets."

The National Coalition of Authors, a group of more than two dozen authors and publishers, said it was concerned about privacy aspects of the deal.

"People should be able to access information on the Internet without fear that what they read and look at is being tracked and that their personal information is being collected by private companies or the government," said attorney Aden Fine of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

National Writers Union president Larry Goldbetter said "we can't let Google or any mega corporation steal our work, re-publish it and sell ads around it without permission and paying us only a pittance."

Google informed the US Federal Trade Commission last week that it would build strong privacy protections into the book-scanning project and it made concessions to European publishers on Monday.

Chris Lefkow/AFP/Expatica

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