Authors Guild comes out swinging in Google Book Search case

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The extension of Friday's deadline to next Tuesday for filing briefs in the Google Book Search settlement hasn't delayed a fierce round of verbal sparring in preparation for Judge Denny Chin's examination of the case.

"Amazon's hypocrisy is breathtaking," the Authors Guild fumed in a statement after Amazon filed a brief opposing the settlement, which the Guild supports. "It dominates online bookselling and the fledgling e-book industry. At this moment it's trying to cement its control of the e-book industry by routinely selling e-books at a loss."

To hear both sides tell it, no less than the future of book publishing is at stake, and major players including Google (GOOG), Microsoft (MSFT), Amazon (AMZN), Sony (SNE) and a host of interest and trade groups, libraries and academics are lining up on opposing sides of the issue.
Judge Chin is facing a decision over whether to sign off on Google's $125 million settlement with the Authors Guild and others, which would allow the search giant to digitize and make accessible a vast collection of previously unavailable books online, including so-called orphan works -- books for whom no copyright holder can be found.

Google's settlement would create an entity called the Books Rights Registry, which would be funded by Google, and oversee payments to authors, as well as have the ability to strike deals with Google's competitors.

Further complicating matters is an ongoing Justice Department probe into the book settlement on anti-trust grounds. But until Judge Chin has had a chance to take a look at the arguments, the Justice Department is likely to keep its distance, while maintaining a watchful eye on developments.

Lining up against Google and its settlement with the Authors Guild is a formidable coalition of players, called the Open Book Alliance, including Amazon, Yahoo, the Internet Archive and Microsoft, which is also at the center of an anti-Google lobbying campaign in Washington, D.C. In fact, some in D.C. believe that the Open Book Alliance is but one arm of a larger front being waged by Microsoft against Google.

The settlement is being examined against the broader backdrop of ongoing -- and thus far unsuccessful -- efforts to pass orphan-works legislation through Congress. Amazon and others feel that Google is essentially making an end-run around Congress by settling with the Authors Guild before Congress can pass a law clarifying the issue.

But Google argues that it isn't going to sit around and wait for Congress to get its act together on orphan works legislation -- there are books to be scanned and made available to the public right now, the search giant insists, and it is just the company to do it.

Not so fast, says the Open Book Alliance, which is also being represented by antitrust attorney Gary L. Reback, who earlier this month said of the proposed Google book settlement, "This deal has enormous, far-reaching anticompetitive consequences that people are just beginning to wake up to." Reback did not return a call and email by DailyFinance for comment.

In a filing this week with Judge Chin's court, Amazon argued that the deal would give Google far too much power in the fledgling E-book market, and stifle competition. In particular, Amazon seems upset that Google's proposed share of a book's revenue with authors will be about 33 percent, far undercutting the 70 percent share Amazon currently enjoys.

The Authors Guild, which is partnering with Google on the deal, ridiculed Amazon's position. "Amazon apparently fears that Google could upend its plans," the group wrote. "Amazon needn't worry, really: this agreement is about out-of-print books. Its lock on the online distribution of in-print books, unfortunately, seems secure."

The deadline for filing briefs in the case is 10 a.m. next Tuesday.

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