Justice department probes Google deal with book industry

Google's (GOOG) deal with the book industry to digitize books seemed like a good one for the book industry. But authors and publishers disagreed with the search company's right to put their content online and sued Google in 2005. Google settled for $125 million and paid legal fees.

The government seems to think the deal was unfair. According toThe Wall Street Journal, "Around April, Justice officials began looking into whether the agreement violated antitrust laws." Some executives in the industry are worried that the deal will give Google "broad copyright immunity and make it difficult for competitors to enter the market for digital titles," the paper writes.

The publishers should not look a gift horse in the mouth. Book sales have fallen off a cliff. Any mechanism that might create reader interest and send someone to a book store or online to order a book is a benefit to a faltering industry.

The objection to the Google program is typical of old media and its relationship to the internet. Magazines and newspapers were slow to embrace putting content online and that allowed the likes of CNN.com, MSNBC.com, and Sportsline.com to flourish.

Book publishers are being stupid and pulling the government into the fray may ruin one of the best deals they ever had.

Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 24/7 Wall St.

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