Publishers step up battle against Google books
10 October 2007
Frankfurt (dpa) – German publishers stepped up Wednesday their battle to tame the Google Books search engine, launching a search machine of their own, but a leading US publishing executive suggested at the Frankfurt Book Fair that the grudge match might soon be over.
Accustomed to tough copyright laws, the German book industry accuses US-based Google of “stealing” books when it indexes their complete text so as to tell Google users which book contains a wanted word or phrase.
US publishers and authors began legal action two years against Google, but those cases are reportedly still at a preliminary stage.
At the Frankfurt Book Fair, Peter Olson, New York-based chief executive of the world’s biggest book publishing group, Random House, said, “I think we are close to resolving our issues. We have so much in common.”
Olson, speaking in a discussion between top industry executives on the first day of the fair, said he would like to see a deal between Google and publishers to charge internet users small sums to see single pages of books online.
A “pay-per-page” model would make allow internet users who might not want to buy a complete cookbook to download a single page of recipes for a much smaller price. Giving a share to the book industry would mollify the publishers.
“I think it makes sense for both sides,” said Olson.
Ruediger Salat, a board executive at Holtzbrinck, the top German-based book publisher, disagreed, saying Google might evolve into a partner to publishers, but at the moment was still “more an enemy.”
Under a policy known as “opt out,” Google, which is funded by online advertising, says it deletes any books from its search engine if requested to do so by the copyright owners.
“Opt out is not the right way,” said Salat, whose group has been a key backer of Libreka, the German publishers’ book-search engine launched in Frankfurt Wednesday as a “public preview.”
The database contains 8,000 German-language books whose publishers have explicitly “opted in” to the idea.
Unregistered users of the Libreka.de website enter a search word and are shown the titles of German books which contain that word, including images of the front covers, but not the contents.
The project, formerly known as Volltextsuche Online (full-text search online), was begun in 2005 and has been engineered by a Delhi, India software house, MPS, in which Holtzbrinck is a shareholder.
Libreka is an offshoot of Germany’s books-in-print database and appears mainly intended as a service for German bookstores, which will later be able to include it as a feature on their websites to help shoppers find books to buy.
It has been described by some German commentators as the “anti-Google,” since its purpose is to restore control of book search to the book industry.
At the Libreka launch, the Boersenverein, the association of German publishers and booksellers, denied hostility or rivalry with Google and said it was in negotiations to cooperate with the US company, for example by sharing results.
The Boersenverein said 300 publishers had signed agreements accepting Libreka’s terms to use their book content.
No other European publishing industry offered anything comparable, the Boersenverein said.
Ronald Schild, head of the project, said publishers could decide if part or even all of a book should be freely downloadable.
The name Libreka not only suggested “books” but was also a portmanteau of the Latin adjective liber (free) and the Greek exclamation “eureka” (I’ve found it), he said.
Jens Redmer, Google Book Search’s chief of European operations, said, “We should not underestimate the potential of Libreka.” But he said Google Book Search had far more books indexed. He declined to say how many German publishers had signed up to the Google plan.
Subject: German news