Friday, March 10, 2006

Google in the News

I haven't blogged about Google for a while so I thought today would be a good time to re-visit them.

Yesterday, federal prosecutors submitted a request in San Jose to U.S. District Judge James Ware. Judge Ware is scheduled to hear the Justice Department's case against Google next Tuesday, March 14.

This case is the result of Google's refusal to hand over documents demanded in a government subpoena regarding searches made on Google (If you want the background, read my blogs for January 20, 21 and 22).

In the new documents, the prosecutors asked Judge Ware to set a 21-day deadline from the point at which he makes his decision for Google to turn over the requested material (And, yes, they seem to be taking a very optimistic approach regarding the outcome of the judge's decision). The Justice Department explained that they were facing a May 3 deadline in a Philadelphia court where they need to defend COPA (the Child Online Protection Act), a law intended to fight Internet pornography.

Instead of doing their own sample searches on the Internet to see what kind of porn underage kids could access by trolling the worldwide web, last summer, the Justice Department subpoenaed Google, AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft for information on their users' habits. After the Internet providers protested, the Justice Department agreed to remove the parts of their request that would identify the users in question. Additionally, they backed off on the size of the sample they had originally requested.

While the other providers turned over their data, Google refused and is now facing this showdown next week in federal court.

In other, unrelated news, Google made an announcement of its own today. The company is introducing "what it is calling the first in a suite of tools that will help publishers generate revenue from titles that are part of Google Book Search." (Publishers Weekly).

Regular readers of this blog will recall that Google is facing two other lawsuits in another federal court--this time on the east coast. In those cases, they are being sued by coalitions of writers and publishers angry over Google's approach to copying existing books for the Google Book Search program.

This new initiative by Google appears to be an attempt to win approval from the publishing world. Publishers Marketplace ran a special story today (in addition to their regular daily post) just on this subject. About the new program, PM said: "Publishers have full control over the pricing of every book they choose to make available in this way, and prices and availability can be changed as often as publishers wish. This program provides only for selling access to the entire text of the book; different, more limited models may be offered at a later date. Google will take an unspecified portion of the revenues, and will report to and pay publishers in a similar manner to the current sharing of ad revenue (such as it is), with expanded reporting to facilitate publishers' royalty reports to authors."

Some of you may remember that, back on 11/3/05, both Amazon and Random House announced similar programs. Amazon.com described an initiative by which they would "unbundle" books "so that customers can simply and inexpensively purchase and read online just the pages they need." Random House, in a separate and unrelated press release (that just happened to occur on the same day), announced a plan to "offer the contents of its books to consumers for online viewing on a pay-per-page-view basis." (If you're interested in reading about those announcements, check my blog for 11/4/05).

Google appears to be announcing a similar program, although one that will start less ambitiously. Instead of unbundling or breaking up books, their initial efforts will be to sell the entire book online. Significantly, Google did not announce a startup date for the new program's launch.

Publishing houses' responses to the Google program could best be described as restrained. Of course, companies that are in the process of suing Google over copyright are probably not going to publicly laud Google now.

I was amused by a comment from Google's representative, Jim Gerber, as described in PM. He said the new program was just "'the first of many new digital business models that we hope to enable'" in order to provide options for publishers to 'monetize their book content' in 'incremental ways' online."

And isn't that the goal of every writer, too? To "monetize" our book content.

Don't you just love it?

1 comment:

Karen said...

I've been watching the news about Google/Writely and the Google calendar with great excitement this week. The legal battles seem far away and removed; the programs themselves I can't wait to get my keyboard and mouse into.