Three tech business titans have linked arms with an organization called the Open Book Alliance to oppose the pending settlement between the publishing industry and Google's Book Search program. The Google settlement was reached in October 2008 and is pending court approval, but before Google gets the nod and a good-luck slap on the back, the U.S. Department of Justice started looking into the matter. Now, giants like Microsoft, Amazon, and Yahoo have publicly cocked their rifles and taken aim at the project, citing anticompetitive practices.
When I read that Microsoft was taking a stance against anticompetitive behavior, I snarfed my coffee. This has got to be some kind of joke, right?
Nope. And the Open Book Alliance -- which, to me, seems like it would be closing more books than opening -- is co-chaired by Gary Reback, a Silicon Valley lawyer who was heavily involved in the antitrust case against Microsoft a few years back. That's some serious firepower on the opposing side.
The impetus for disagreement stems from the finer details of the book settlement. Google paid $125 million, plus investments in book search technology and operation, to be exempt from certain copyright laws. Google scanned thousands of copyrighted texts, and authors and publishers were peeved. Then Google defended itself from the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers by saying the full script of copyrighted texts were not available for free download, but only for search preview purposes in hopes of attracting buyers. Checks were written, hands were shaken, and a settlement was reached.
But Google's business savvy didn't go unnoticed. If the case went through the court system, Google might have won on the basis of fair use, and the doors would open to anyone with a similar ambition of selling eText. Perhaps the doors aren't shut forever, but in the meantime, Google has a muscled leg up in the race.
The Open Book Alliance is calling this advantage unfair, and now that Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo have chimed in, it's evident that the eBook business is burning hot and people want in.
I want to see the settlement go through unchecked. I'm excited for the possibilities Google Book Search will bring to the market, and I'm rooting for Google's vision. I feel as though Google's participation in the eBook business will drive people away from Amazon's Kindle and force businesses to get smarter with their products. It'll open competition rather than dissolve it. And if there have to be a few broken bones along the way, well, that's the way business works.