Microsoft opposes Google in court copyright battle

Google has no right to “restructure copyright” in a deal which could see it monopolise the market by converting millions of copyrighted books for digital sale, Microsoft said.

A flurry of arguments supporting and opposing a settlement in which the internet giant will team up with US authors and publishers to create an online library of out-of-print books were lodged as the deadline passed last night.

Microsoft, Yahoo and other opponents attacked the settlement as a conspiracy to create a monopoly that will drive up book prices and make Google’s online search engine even more influential than it already is.

In its objections lodged with the US district court in the southern district of New York yesterday, Microsoft’s lawyers accused Google of seeking a monopoly on digital books.

“A class action settlement is the wrong mechanism, this court is the wrong venue, and monopolisation is the wrong means to carry out the worthy goal of digitising and increasing the accessibility of books,” they wrote.

“The Constitution confers upon the United States Congress alone the task of defining the scope of copyright owners’ rights and remedies.

“The proposed settlement seeks to resolve broad and important public policy issues that go well beyond the scope of this case.”

Yahoo’s lawyers said the settlement had “three fundamental, and fatal, flaws”.

The class action was “simply not an appropriate legislative vehicle”, the settlement “covers an unascertainable, and conflicted, group of plaintiffs” and “raises competition concerns” while also creating “barriers to entry for future competitors to Google in the scanning, archiving, searching, and presentation of books and inserts online”.

Both could lodge separate appeals alongside the class action, as did internet retailer last week.

But the settlement’s backers, including a group of economics professors, contend those concerns are misguided.

They hail the agreement as a breakthrough that will benefit society by making millions more books available to anyone with a device connected to the internet.

In documents filed with the court, they wrote: “The settlement pro-competitively increases book output by expanding unfettered competition in book licensing and reducing legal and logistical barriers to their distribution by both Google and its rivals.”

A federal judge in New York will review the settlement on October 7.

Under a 10-month old settlement, Google would act as a sales agent for groups representing authors and publishers.

The deal has raised fears that Google could emerge as the ringleader of a literary cartel that would have too much power in determining the price of digital books.

These concerns have resulted in the US Justice Department opening an inquiry over whether the agreements violates laws regarding predatory pricing. It has until September 18 to file its findings.

Google has made concessions to publishers outside the US. It said that books that were out of print in America but available elsewhere would not be displayed without explicit consent.

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