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Pot shots at the Google Book Search deal

WASHINGTON -- Google's really getting it from all sides about its Books Search project.

Here at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference, Google attorney Alex Macgillivray sat on a panel discussion as the lone defender of the deal, trying his best to assuage concerns about monopolies, privacy and authors' rights.

"There really is this whole spectrum of choices for the rights holders," Macgillivray said.

As it stands today, Google has reached a tentative settlement with a group of authors and publishers that had filed a copyright-infringement lawsuit to block its efforts to digitize the collections of five major research libraries.

Google settled with the plaintiffs, but now other groups and government regulators are raising a fresh set of concerns about the deal, with some claiming that it gives Google an unfair competitive advantage over competitors who might want to initiate their own scanning projects.

"I'm comfortable with the term 'monopoly' here," said James Grimmelman, an attorney with the Institute for Information Law and Policy.

Macgillivray stressed that striking down a deal based on a hypothetical impact for hypothetical competitors is nonsense.

He also pointed out that Google made the investment and took the risk to launch this project, painting it as a full-throated defense of fair use.

Of course, the argument over the Book Search deal tends to conflate several issues -- those involving copyrights and scanning, orphaned works, anti-competitive concerns and, to some, privacy. The concern with the last point is similar to the concerns people have been raising about Google for several years -- namely, that it has an insatiable hunger for ever more data about its users. As to the others, it's really going to be left to the lawyers.

And, for those eager to keep up with the legal documents circulating about the case, SharedBook, a software firm geared toward publishers, has set up a discussion page dedicated to the settlement.

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