With the deadline drawing closer in the dispute over the Google Books settlement (representations to the New York court overseeing the case have to be made by the end of this week) the battle between the two sides is growing more fierce by the day.
Yesterday Amazon took a pop at its rival, while today Google held its own press conference with organisations that support its deal with US authors and publishers - which I reported earlier as an attempt to sidestep the substantial issue of whether they have the right to act on behalf of all authors and publishers in the states.
Now, however, one of the groups that proposed the settlement in question - the Authors Guild - has come out with both arms swinging, as well as a couple of feet too. On its website, the guild took a shot at Amazon in an angry post entitled 'Amazon accused someone else of monopolizing bookselling'.
Amazon's hypocrisy is breathtaking. It dominates online bookselling and the fledgling e-book industry. At this moment it's trying to cement its control of the e-book industry by routinely selling e-books at a loss. It won't do that forever, of course. Eventually, when enough readers are locked in to its Kindle, everyone in the industry expects Amazon to squeeze publishers and authors. The results could be devastating for the economics of authorship.Fierce words. With a seething rant like that, perhaps the AG is even prepared to get its teeth in on the action as well as its limbs.
Amazon apparently fears that Google could upend its plans. Amazon needn't worry, really: this agreement is about out-of-print books. Its lock on the online distribution of in-print books, unfortunately, seems secure
And it's fair to question Amazon's motives. I can't imagine they're acting from entirely pure motives. But that doesn't necessarily mean they're wrong, does it? And although Amazon does dominate the book selling market almost entirely, we have yet to see that there is any legislative or contractual monopoly that makes it so - just a rapacious and scarily effective business.
There is also the question of whether this case is worth worrying about, since it only applies to American organisations. The German government certainly thinks so, objecting to Google's $125m deal when it offered its own representation to the court. But why? For a start, once something's on the internet in one country, we all know that it's everywhere.
And the settlement covers all books published in the US, wherever the author is based. In fact, I think it also applies to books about the US - at least on this morning's conference call one of the speakers pointed out that Google has already started scanning lots of books in Latin America (and it's been scanning books at the Bodleian in Oxford for years).
If you want a view from the front line, you could do an awful lot worse than this post by British author Nick Harkaway, who points out why he's concerned.
I think that this deal is a mistake. I'm not comfortable with being in a standardised bundle which can't be negotiated, and I'm not happy being in a long-term relationship with Google without ever having dealt with them directly.Worth reading in full.
I'm troubled by the Book Registry, the business of the secret clause and the lack of control over ads. I'm not happy with the monopolistic aspect of the Settlement.
But above all else, I think the way this has been done – by bypassing standard practice and arranging an opt-out situation, by cutting a private deal rather than legislating, by linking a fight over past infringement to the creation of an information/literary powerhouse (not that Google wasn't already a powerhouse) is alarming. It's not how this stuff should happen, and it shouldn't stand. We should not endorse it.