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Monday, October 31, 2005

Software Notebook: Surprise alliance for MSN book search prompts concern

Microsoft has been trying to control its own destiny in the critical Internet search business, crafting its own technologies to replace those it has licensed from a rival. But in announcing a new book-search initiative last week, the company took a different approach.

In a surprise move, Microsoft said it would create its new MSN Book Search service by working with the Open Content Alliance, a group founded to digitize and index books and other media. The group's founding members include Yahoo!, the very competitor from which Microsoft is trying to untie other parts of its Internet search business.

Under the circumstances, Microsoft's move might seem odd. But some in the technology industry see it as an example of the lengths to which Microsoft will go in its rivalry with Google.

Tim O'Reilly, whose O'Reilly Media book-publishing company belongs to the Open Content Alliance, expressed concern on his weblog that the group was "being hijacked by Microsoft as a way of undermining Google."

O'Reilly's comment arose from the fact that joining the alliance gave Microsoft a chance to try to cast itself in a positive light -- while contrasting itself with the Web search leader.

That's because Google has been involved in a high-profile dispute with book publishers and authors over its plan to scan in copyrighted books for searching in its Google Print Library project. Announcing its MSN Book Search initiative, Microsoft signed on to the Open Content Alliance's vow to incorporate copyrighted content only with permission of copyright holders.

"It's certainly much more complex, but it's the right way to do it," said Danielle Tiedt, MSN's general manager of search content acquisition. "For us, protecting copyright is really a core philosophical belief. I think it's the only way, long term, to make sure that this actually comes to market in the right way."

One of the primary groups opposing Google said it was pleased by Microsoft's approach.

"We're very excited about the Microsoft project because it appears, unlike Google, they are doing it the right way," said Pat Schroeder, president of the Association of American Publishers, which represents five publishing companies that have sued Google over its initiative.

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