Amazon: Google Books deal an 'unprecedented' copyright hack

Perhaps the most strident criticism from a competitor of Google's digital book settlement with publishers and authors was released Wednesday by Amazon.

Amazon came out swinging Tuesday against Google's proposed settlement with book authors and publishers.

Amazon's opposition was made public last week when it joined the Open Book Alliance , but the company filed its own brief with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Tuesday arguing against making the proposed settlement final. In its filing (click for PDF), Amazon notes that it has also scanned books, but has not taken the controversial step that Google took in scanning out-of-print but copyright-protected books without explicit permission.

Way back in 2004, when Google began scanning books from libraries, it believed it had the right to scan the entire text of a copyright-protected book under fair-use laws so long as it only displayed a snippet of the contents. Authors groups and publishers vehemently disagreed, resulting in a class-action lawsuit and the proposed settlement at issue in this case.

Lawyers for Amazon wrote "Amazon also brings a unique perspective to this court because it has engaged in a book scanning project very similar to Google's, with one major distinction: As to books still subject to copyright protection, Amazon has only scanned those for which it could obtain permission to do so from the copyright holder."

The brief goes on to complain that the settlement "is unfair to authors, publishers, and others whose works would be the subject of a compulsory license for the life of the copyright in favor of Google and the newly created Book Rights Registry." Amazon wants Congress to intervene in the dispute over fair-use provisions in copyright laws, saying the use of a class-action settlement to obtain these rights "represents an unprecedented rewriting of copyright law through judicial action."

Amazon, of course, has a lot at stake when it comes to the future of books. One of the largest sellers of regular books in the world, Amazon has also turned its attention to the digital book market with the release of the Kindle and a digital book store of its own.

Google has supporters in its fight to get the settlement approved during an early October fairness hearing before Judge Denny Chin. Sony, the American Association for People with Disabilities, the European Commission, and several others have filed briefs of support with the court. And on Tuesday, U.K. publisher Coolerbooks agreed to join Google's Partner Program, allowing it to offer Google's scanned copies of public domain works not at issue in the settlement.

Updated 2:52 p.m. PDT: Google plans to hold a press conference tomorrow morning with settlement supporters from civil rights groups and advocates for people with disabilities, which we'll cover.

And three library groups reiterated Wednesday that while they do not oppose the settlement they wish to ensure "vigorous oversight" is enforced by the court.

But judging by the court docket, the opposition is out-filing supporters. Those interested in flooding Judge Chin with additional reading material have until Friday to do so.

About the author

    Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.

     

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