The e-tailer declined to comment on whether people were previously allowed to print book pages or on any author complaints, saying Amazon does not discuss the "security measures" of the service. But The Authors Guild, a professional group that represents U.S. writers and had criticized the program, along with industry newsletter Publishers Lunch, noted the change over the weekend. A test by CNET News.com verified that the print feature from Search Inside the Book was disabled.
Amazon said the program, whichOct. 23, is designed to promote, not hamper, book sales by letting site users browse content before buying. Using the tool, people can type in any keyword and receive results for all pages and titles of various books that contain that term.
Previously, browsers could only search for a book by author, subject or keyword--not by the books' contents. The search feature works with about 120,000 titles from 190 publishers, which translates into some 33 million pages of searchable text.
But combine that with the ability to print digital book excerpts, and you've got a recipe for copyright infringement, says the Guild, which sent an e-mail to members last week that urged them to opt out of the program. Immediately after Search Inside the Book debuted, the organization tested the program to find that they could download and print up to 20 percent of certain books in consecutive pages, or 108 pages of one best-seller.
That was particularly worrisome for titles that contain recipes or travel information, which people are more likely to copy rather than buy.
"Last Friday, Amazon quietly disabled the print function, and because of that, that significantly reduces the risk that the program will erode sales for at least some categories of books," said Kay Murray, general counsel for the Authors Guild.
Book sales are at least on the rise. Amazon has said that compared with books outside of the program, sales of books that are participating in the service.
"The goal of the program is to drive increased book sales," said Steve Kessel, Amazon's vice president of books, music and video. "Sales results have been great to date."
The behind-the-scenes flap comes as thefor the proffering of digital access to content is shifting, and companies such as Amazon and Google are forging new territory in the search for online information. Google is reportedly about building a similar book text search service.
Amazon itself is exploring new ways to develop shopping search, havingto build tools to navigate online product information and help the company make its mark in a business Google and Yahoo dominate.
Conversely, Google and Yahoo want to enhance their presence in this specialty search market, in which they receive revenue for each person they divert to an online retailer or a percentage of any purchases diverted shoppers make. Google has been testing product comparison engine Froogle since December, and Yahoo launched its own product search site this week.
Michael Cader, creator of Publishers Lunch newsletter and the founder of Cader Books, characterized Amazon's Search Inside the Book feature as "revolutionary," if not evolutionary, in the arena of book sales and shopping. He downplayed any copyright concerns about the service, given that there will always be people who copy pages from books at the library or at retail bookstores, he said.
"In all the experience I know of, the more content that authors and publishers make available for free online, the more books they sell," Cader said. "This is a great innovation from Amazon, with their customers in mind."