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9/2/2009
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Amazon Files Brief Against Google Books Lawsuit Settlement

Wary of Google's ambition and power, Amazon has joined a growing list of companies that see danger in Google's publishing plans.

Broadening its public opposition to the proposed Google Books lawsuit settlement scheduled for judicial review next month, Amazon on Tuesday filed a legal brief arguing against the terms of the deal.

The move follows the formation last week of the Open Book Alliance, a group opposed to the settlement whose members include Amazon, Microsoft, and Yahoo.

Last October, Google reached a settlement with the authors and publishers who brought a lawsuit against the company for scanning books for its search index without permission from copyright holders. The settlement awaits approval from the judge overseeing the case. The U.S. Department of Justice is also trying to determine whether to object to the settlement on antitrust grounds.

A fairness hearing to consider approval of the settlement is scheduled for October 7. Those seeking to object to the settlement must do so by September 4.

Amazon says it is opposed to the settlement because it would harm the digital book market and weaken copyright law.

The settlement, Amazon's legal filing states, "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. It is anticompetitive and violates antitrust laws because it provides Google an effective monopoly in the scanning and exploitation of millions of works whose copyright holders cannot be located or choose not to involve themselves in this class action. It also creates a cartel of authors and publishers -- the Books Rights Registry -- operating with virtually no restrictions on its actions, with the potential to raise book prices and reduce output to the detriment of consumers and new authors or publishers who would compete with the cartel members."

Google's plan to become a provider of e-commerce infrastructure later this year for publishers who wish to sell e-books is widely seen as a competitive threat to Amazon and its Kindle e-book reading device.

The major areas of contention revolve around issues of privacy, exclusivity, and indemnification from liability. Critics of the settlement want Google to commit to: offering online readers the same privacy protection enjoyed by offline readers; an open registry system rather than one controlled by two publishing industry groups; and indemnification from copyright claims for those who want to scan, as Google has done, orphaned works -- books for which the copyright holder cannot be found.

Sony, which competes against Amazon as a provider of e-book hardware, sees the settlement as a positive development. It recently asked the judge overseeing the settlement to accept its amicus brief in support of the deal.

"In Sony Electronics' view, the cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship the Settlement forges between Google and copyright holders in the proposed class may have a profoundly positive impact on the market for e-book readers and related devices," Jennifer B. Coplan, an attorney representing Sony, said in a letter to the judge, adding that the settlement will "foster competition, spur innovation and create efficiencies that will substantially benefit consumers."

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on why businesses shouldn't shrug off Google's upcoming Chrome OS. Download the report here (registration required).

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