Microsoft slams Google digital book settlement

digital books

Microsoft has again gone head-to-head with Google, calling the web giant's digital book settlement "an unprecedented misuse of the judicial system".

This week, the deadline passed to file an opinion on the US settlement, leaving the judge to decided whether or not to approve a $125 million deal allowing Google to create a massive registry of digitised books.

Litigation began back in 2005, when American publishers and authors objected to Google's digitisation of books for its online search engine without permission. Under the settlement, Google will pay $125 million to a new digital books registry, which would include millions of "orphan" works - those still protected under copyright but whose copyright holders are unknown or untraceable.

The settlement also allots 70 per cent of any revenue generated from advertisements or digital book sales for authors and publishers.

If approved, Microsoft argued, the settlement will grant Google a monopoly on digital books.

"A class action settlement is the wrong mechanism, this court is the wrong venue, and monopolization is the wrong means to carry out the worthy goal of digitizing and increasing the accessibility of books," Microsoft's lawyers wrote in a filing to the US District Court of New York.

Microsoft added that the deal would harm its business. "Microsoft was and remains interested in search technology to improve access to digital books, an interest that would be substantially harmed by approval of the proposed settlement," the filing said.

Microsoft claimed that Google's "closed-door" negotiations undermined the rights of authors.

"The class representatives bargained away millions of absent class members' incontestable rights to prevent the reproduction, distribution, public display, public performance and other uses of their copyrighted books rights that are not remotely in dispute in this case," the company said.

Last week Amazon filed a similar complaint, arguing the book deal was "anti-competitive" and "the stuff of antitrust nightmares."

In August, the two technology heavyweights, joined by Yahoo, joined the Open Book Alliance, a coalition that opposes Google's book deal.

Google has said that the deal will actually benefit authors by creating new forms of revenue.

"The new registry should help reduce the number of in-copyright works whose owners cannot be identified or found because authors will have a concrete economic incentive to come forward, claim their works and then earn money," Daniel Clancy, Google engineering director, wrote in a blog post.

"For books that are in-print, the agreement would offer new distribution opportunities to copyright holders in the United States."

The deal is currently being discussed by the European Commission.