Yahoo, Microsoft team with rival trustbuster against Google Books settlement

An attorney who was at the heart of the US Dept. of Justice's original 1994 antitrust case against Microsoft, arising from its proposed takeover of Quicken manufacturer Intuit, will find himself spearheading a coalition against Google's book scanning policies that includes both Microsoft and Yahoo, spokespersons from both companies confirmed to Betanews this morning.

It was attorney Gary Reback who first called Microsoft to task for using its "embrace and extend" policy in an abusive fashion against competitors, often representing those competitors in legal action, as was the case with Borland International and Sybase in the mid '90s. Currently, he is the author of a book called Free the Market! Why Only Government Can Keep the Marketplace Competitive. His latest confrontation is against Google, whose proposed settlement with book authors and publishers would give Google "non-exclusive" rights to scan their books contents and reproduce them online in the Google Books service. Already, Google has been scanning books that are available in public libraries, and making excerpts of those books available to users -- excerpts, as opposed to the books in their entirety.

The settlement would be signed by authors consenting to Google's wishes, although it would have to be ratified by a judge. Google's defensive arguments have included the notion that, if a book is freely accessible through a library, it should be freely accessible online. But publishers have countered that it should be up to them to determine whether a book is freely accessible online, adding that they have services which sell directly to libraries, and in so doing are in full control of their books' distribution. Libraries, they say, do not have to reproduce books, whereas Google's service constitutes unauthorized reproduction, and is thus in violation of copyright.

Reback's partner in this coalition is Peter Brantley, a founding director of the Internet Archive. While his service also makes available copies of published work, though in a different sense, that work -- Web pages -- were intended for free distribution to begin with. North American and European library associations have been expected to be among their initial membership roster, to be revealed next week.

The surprise is the membership of Microsoft and Yahoo. Both companies are declining further comment to Betanews about the extent of their membership or their goals in joining up, until Brantley and/or Reback make further public comments on the matter. Their opposition to Google in the marketplace, of course, is a matter of record; though a thorough read of the proposed settlement agreement would not put Google in an exclusive position legally; conceivably, Microsoft and Yahoo would be free to deploy similar services, assuming of course they would accept Google as having the authority to grant them that freedom.

European library groups have already raised opposition to, and taken action against, Google's unilateral efforts to catalog the world's printed information. Recently, some there have formed their own competitive services, under the notion that they're not against the idea of online access -- they're against anyone else thinking they have the authority to grant that access on their behalf.

In a recent Betanews review, we scored Google higher than Microsoft's Bing service in one market area, among other reasons, for Google's ability to lead the reader directly to desired excerpts in Google Books -- a feat Bing cannot yet match. Ironically, the story of Gary Reback's antitrust efforts against Microsoft is recounted in The Microsoft Way, one of the many books excerpted by Google Books, probably without the publisher's permission.

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