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Microsoft joins book-search club

Service takes softly-softly approach to copyright

Microsoft has developed a book-search service to compete with a similar offering from Google. The difference is that Microsoft will be taking a more conservative approach to scanning works.

Today Microsoft plans to launch a beta version of Live Search Books, which, like Google Book Search, is a service that indexes and makes searchable the full text of books.

Like Google, Microsoft is striking up partnerships with libraries, universities and publishers. Microsoft is even participating in the collective project Open Content Alliance with rival Yahoo, which doesn't have a standalone book search service. However, unlike Google, Microsoft has chosen to index copyright books only if it has permission from the copyright owner. Both companies are also scanning books in the public domain.

But Google is taking an approach that is more aggressive – some say illegal – regarding copyrighted books, opting to scan them without always securing permission from the copyright owners. Last year, the AAP (Association of American Publishers), acting on behalf of five of its members, and the Authors Guild and three of its member authors filed separate but similar lawsuits accusing Google of copyright infringement.

Google argues that it is protected by the fair-use principle, because it only displays short text snippets from copyrighted books. The plaintiffs say the very act of scanning and storing a digital copy of a book without permission constitutes infringement. It's very likely that it will take years for a definitive legal answer to emerge to this debate.

In the short term, Google may gain an edge with a larger book index for its service, but its approach may backfire in the end, said industry analyst Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates. The most obvious setback would be a court ruling against Google, but already Google is probably causing great harm to its long-term relationship with publishers and authors, Kay said. "Microsoft's approach is sound, prudent and correct," Kay said.

The service will feature books scanned from the collections of the University of California, University of Toronto and the British Library, said Danielle Tiedt, a Live Search general manager. The books are either in the public domain or ones whose copyright is owned by the libraries, she said. Microsoft is also scanning books from Cornell University's library and has just struck a partnership with the New York Public Library and the American Museum of Veterinary Medicine.

Microsoft is in conversations with many publishers right now and, as those agreements are finalised, plans to begin adding in-copyright books to the service, which are likely to start in early 2007, she said.

Microsoft also plans to integrate its book index with its general web search service, so that book results surface as a result of general web search queries, she said. The main point of scanning books is to increase the amount of authoritative, useful information available to people via the Microsoft search engines, and most people go the main web search service, Tiedt said.

Revenue from Live Search Books will come from various avenues, such as advertising and revenue-sharing with book sellers, Tiedt said.

Live Search Books will be available as an option on the main Live.com site or directly at books.live.com. For now, it will be hosted only in the US for English-language books, although Microsoft plans to roll out international editions of the service in the future.

In a few weeks, Microsoft also plans to upgrade Live Search Academic, a beta service to search scholarly and academic journals and articles. The upgrade will consist of articles from the biomedical field, which will quadruple the index of the service, which already includes articles from engineering, computer science and physics.


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