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Amazon takes Google fight to Congress
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Amazon.com Inc., the world's largest online retailer, told a U.S. court that Congress, not Google Inc., should be responsible for establishing rules on how to deal with digital copies of books. An agreement Google reached last year with some U.S. publishers and authors "invades the prerogatives of Congress and attempts to legislate a private solution to a problem that can only truly be solved with across-the-board changes to the copyright law that affect everyone," Amazon.comsays in a court document filed yesterday that sets out its legal arguments for opposing the settlement. Google was sued in 2005 by authors and publishers who said the company was infringing their copyrights on a massive scale by digitizing books. Under the settlement, Mountain View, Calif.-based Google would pay US$125-million and set up a Book Rights Registry so copyright owners could be compensated.

"The Google Books settlement is injecting more competition into the digital books space, so it's understandable why our competitors might fight hard to prevent more competition," said Gabriel Stricker, a Google spokesman. "It is important to note that this agreement is non-exclusive and if approved by the court, stands to expand access to millions of books in the U.S."

A federal judge tentatively approved the settlement and scheduled a hearing for Oct. 7 to hear objections to it. Companies and individuals have until 10 a.m. New York time on Sept. 8 to present their objections in writing. The judge yesterday extended the deadline from Sept. 4 because the court's electronic filing system will undergo scheduled maintenance.

The U.S. Justice Department, which is investigating whether the agreement violates anti-trust law, has until Sept. 18 to make any statement on the issue. The House judiciary committee has scheduled a Sept. 10 hearing in Washington on "Competition and Commerce in Digital Books." David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, is likely to testify for the company, said Adam Kovacevich, a company spokesman.

More than a dozen letters were filed on Tuesday objecting to the agreement. Folk musician Arlo Guthrie and Pay It Forward author Catherine Ryan Hyde filed their objections yesterday, saying the agreement "would provide a public good" in making a digital library available to the public but "at a disproportionate and unfair cost to authors."

Four groups representing photographers and graphic artists also filed objections yesterday.

Seattle-based Amazon.comsaid it has its own book-scanning project that would rival Google Book. It's also part of a coalition including Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo! Inc. that argues Google is trying to control the access and distribution of the world's largest database of books and have control of so-called "orphan works" whose copyright owners can't be found. The coalition, called the Open Book Alliance, plans to file its legal reasons with the court by the deadline, a lawyer for the group and the Internet Archive said in an Aug. 31 letter to the judge.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has joined the Open Book Alliance, the group said yesterday.

The agreement "is not so much a release of claims for past conduct as an agreement on behalf of a class of millions of authors and publishers, both known and unknown, to engage in a complex business arrangement with Google for the perpetual exploitation of millions of copyrighted works," Amazon.comsaid in the filing in federal court in Manhattan.

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