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Arguments On Google Books Deal Flood Court

It was the last day to weigh in on the controversial deal between Google and book authors and publishers, and arguments for and against the $125 million legal settlement on digital book titles flooded in to a federal court Tuesday.

A hearing to review the settlement is scheduled to take place Oct. 7 in the Southern District of New York. Separately, the deal is also being investigated by the Justice Department to see if it violates antitrust laws.

Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon argued against the online search giant, saying the settlement would give Google dominance in the nascent field of digital books, edge out competition and lead to potential price fixing.

Other critics including "Wonder Boys" author Michael Chabon and "Fortress of Solitude" author Jonathan Lethem who, along with privacy advocates, argued in filings to the court that the Google's book search project "ignores critical privacy and speech rights for readers and writers." They say Google and advertisers will track what readers pick to read and gather profiles on their reading habits and it is unclear that users will have a full understanding that data is being collected about them.

Google argues that the settlement would give more readers - particularly the underprivileged -- access to millions of book titles and spur a thriving market for online digital literature. They say search for books online will transform research and provide greater access to educational resources worldwide. The company organized a conference call last week to stress these points. The call included a couple legal scholars and a national organization for disabled persons. And the high-tech trade group Computer & Communications Industry Association, of which Google is a member, said Tuesday that it supported the settlement.

"The legal framework promised by this settlement would help erase legal uncertainty and encourage others to enter the market and compete with Google, for the good of readers and rightsholders," said Ed Black, CEO of CCIA.

Antitrust scholar Robert Lande, a professor at the University of Baltimore and co-founder of the American Antitrust Institute says at the heart of the debate is what he describes as a "most favored nation" outcome, that would make it difficult for a competitor to Google to strike a better deal than Google did with authors and publishers.

"The deal will make it easier to read many books online, but will it prevent another deal to do a better job? That's the question," Lande said.

In Silicon Valley, high-tech antitrust attorney Gary Reback slammed the deal through his coalition, the Open Book Alliance that includes Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon. The group argued that the settlement between search giant Google and the Association
of American Publishers and the Authors' amounted to a digital book monopoly that would lead to the illegal practice of price fixing.

By Cecilia Kang  |  September 8, 2009; 5:34 PM ET  | Category:  Cecilia Kang
Previous: Google Goes Monopoly . . . the Board Game | Next: At Gov 2.0 Conference, Web 2.0 Comes to Washington


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