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Microsoft Writes a New Chapter with Online Book Search

Not to be outdone by its competitors, Microsoft announced plans this week to launch its own book search engine. The company's MSN Search, like Yahoo before it, has joined the Open Content Alliance to make publicly available print materials accessible on the Web.

Microsoft says the consortium will begin the digitization process, with the help of the nonprofit organization Internet Archive, on books that are in the public domain. In a subsequent phase, it will extend offerings to other types of offline content not under copyright.

Dark and Stormy Night at Google

Microsoft and its partners are at pains to reassure publishers, printers, and authors that they will respect copyright laws. The MSN announcement comes in the wake of a lawsuit filed by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers accusing Google of copyright infringement after the company unveiled its plans to create a book search engine by scanning library book collections.

Google has drawn a maelstrom of criticism from publishers and printers, but insists it is following the fair-use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. Book search results, Google said, will "at most show only a brief snippet of text where their search term appears, along with basic bibliographic information" and links to online booksellers and libraries.

Publishing houses Simon & Schuster, McGraw-Hill, John Wiley & Sons, Pearson Education, and Penguin Group have argued that the Google Print Library Project's plan to digitize books from libraries at Oxford, Harvard, and Stanford universities, as well as from the New York Public Library and the University of Michigan, without gaining permission from owners, was a copyright violation.

On Tuesday, the International Publishers Association and PEN USA released a joint declaration condemning Google's project. The groups said they are "alarmed about the deliberate and continued disregard of the interests and concerns that [have been] repeatedly raised with Google Print Library Project."

Suddenly, a Shot Rang Out

It's an imbroglio that Microsoft hopes to sidestep. "With MSN Book Search, we are excited to be working with libraries worldwide to digitize and index information from the world's printed materials, taking another step in our efforts to better answer people's questions with trusted content from the best sources," Christopher Payne, corporate vice president of MSN Search at Microsoft, said in a statement.

Analysts say that MSN is doing more than just tweaking Google's nose. The ability to archive, search, and retrieve information from offline content is in high demand among businesses and consumers, said Mukul Krishna, program manager for digital media at Frost & Sullivan.

"It is a very valuable tool that is moving from a nice-to-have to a must-have for enterprises and [it is] beginning to be a need for consumers."

At the same time, however, Krishna suggested that Microsoft stepped into book searching in part because of the legal battle Google faces before it can get its Library Project up and running.

"This is a market that [Microsoft] definitely wants to pursue and the cream is that they might get one-upmanship over Google," Krisha said.


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