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Originally published August 28, 2009 at 12:13 AM | Page modified August 28, 2009 at 7:56 AM

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Sony backs Google Book in settlement

Sony, maker of an electronic book reader that rivals Amazon.com's Kindle device, said it supports an agreement reached between U.S. publishing companies and Google over a digital book-scanning project.

Bloomberg News

Sony, maker of an electronic book reader that rivals Amazon.com's Kindle device, said it supports an agreement reached between U.S. publishing companies and Google over a digital book-scanning project.

Google Book will "foster competition, spur innovation and create efficiencies that will substantially benefit consumers," a Sony lawyer said in a court filing late Wednesday. It sought — and received — permission to file a lengthier explanation in support of the agreement reached last year. A federal judge has tentatively approved the settlement and scheduled a hearing for Oct. 7 to hear objections to it.

Sony's position puts it at odds with Amazon, which with a coalition that includes Microsoft and Yahoo, argues that Google is trying to control the access and distribution of the largest database of books in the world. The settlement also has generated complaints from authors and independent publishers, and prompted investigations by the European Commission and U.S. Justice Department.

With Sony taking the side of Google, the debate over the lawsuit in New York could become a proxy war over electronic book readers. In March, Sony gained access to more than 500,000 e-book titles for its readers through an agreement with Google.

Sony said earlier this week that it will start selling a version of its e-book reader that can download titles using a wireless connection in a direct effort to challenge Kindle sales. The new reader, called Daily Edition, will be able to hold more than 1,000 e-books, compared with 1,500 and 3,500 for the two Kindle models.

Earlier this month, Sony showed models that are cheaper than the Kindle after Amazon.com cut the price of its device.

Sales of electronic books more than doubled to $25.8 million in the first three months of 2009 from a year earlier, according to the Association of American Publishers in New York. Digital books still make up less than 2 percent of total U.S. book sales, which declined 7 percent in the first quarter, the association said.

Google was sued in 2005 by the Author's Guild, Penguin, McGraw-Hill, John Wiley & Sons and Simon & Schuster. They claimed that Google was infringing their copyrights on a massive scale by digitizing books.

Under the settlement reached last year, authors and publishers will have final say on whether their copyright works may be used by the program.

The deal provides that Google will keep 37 percent of revenue from online book sales and for advertisements that run next to previews of book pages, passing on the remainder to the Books Registry, which will keep an administrative fee and leave the rest for the copyright holders to collect.

Among those backing the settlement are the University of Wisconsin, which says it is digitizing 10,000 works a month in collaboration with Google; the American Association of People with Disabilities, which said in court papers that the settlement will help the disabled gain access to books; and the U.S. Student Association, which says it represents more than 4 million college students, according to court records.

Hundreds of crime writers from Europe, dozens of publishers from Japan and many individual authors have filed letters in court opposing the agreement as theft of intellectual property.

A lawyer representing authors, scholars and political figures, including Harold Bloom, Norman Podhoretz, Dick Armey and John Woo, Wednesday filed a formal appearance in the case. Attorney Joseph Hall didn't respond to a request for comment on his clients' position on the settlement.

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