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Google to broker online book sales

Search giant invites U.S. and U.K. publishers to sell online access to their texts through its site.

Still embroiled in controversy over its plans to digitize several of the world's largest library collections, Google is inviting U.S. and U.K. publishers to sell online access to their copyright texts through its book search site.

Right now, Google Book Search users can view free snippets of copyright books catalogued by its service but cannot read entire books online. They have the option of perusing a full version by clicking on links to outside booksellers or library catalogs.

The new offering would allow people to sign in and purchase immediate, browser-based access to books, Google said on its site. Purchasers would not, however, be allowed to save a copy of the book to their computer or to otherwise copy pages from the book.

Google is marketing the new program as the first of several tools intended to help book publishers boost their revenues, though it was unclear Monday how many had signed up. Pricing would remain entirely at the book publisher's discretion.

Such a business model appears similar to plans hatched last fall by Amazon.com and Random House, which is the world's largest trade publisher. The two companies announced services through which people could purchase online access to anywhere from a few pages of a book to an entire work. Book vendors would set the prices for the purchased pages.

Google has attracted considerable controversy for another book-related venture, known as the Print Library Project, which proposes scanning, digitizing and making searchable both public-domain and copyright books from the four major university collections and the New York Public Library. The company has already begun putting public domain books--that is, those with expired copyrights or no copyrights at all--online, but its plans to publish copyright texts have run into snags.

The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers filed suit last fall against the search giant, arguing that making a full copy of a copyright book available, even just for searching purposes, infringes on the rights of copyright holders. Just last week, some publishing executives attending the London Book Fair voiced concerns about the project's potential threats to the industry.

Efforts by Yahoo and the Internet Archive to create a rival library-digitization project, which Microsoft later joined, have managed to sidestep such controversy because they have been restricted to public-domain books and those for which the copyright holder has given permission. Many public domain books have been available on the Web for years through sites such as Project Gutenberg.

News of Google's latest venture drew cautious praise from Association of American Publishers President Patricia Schroeder. "I assume in this they would have to be asking the permission of the publisher, and we would say, that's very good news," she told CNET News.com.