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Bookworms Embrace Yahoo!

Now Yahoo! (YHOO) is hitting the books too.

The Sunnyvale, Calif., Internet titan raised the stakes in its battle with rival Google (GOOG) on Monday. The subject at hand is how books will be scanned onto the Internet so their contents can be downloaded and searched by people around the world.

Google has previously indicated it would scan books without seeking authorization from copyright holders, citing the so-called fair use doctrine and provoking a lawsuit from publishing world heavyweights. Now, Yahoo! and its allies in the Open Content Alliance say they are approaching book digitization differently.

The alliance will seek authorization from copyright holders to use their material, something that Google says it doesn't need to do. And content scanned through their project will be available on all search engines, in contrast to Google's Print initiative, whose content will be found only on Google.

Although both Yahoo! and Google are touting their digitization plans as altruistic endeavors, they both stand to profit by selling ads linked to their searches, according to Jennifer Laycock, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Guide.

"Just because there isn't a direct advertising tie-in now doesn't mean that there isn't a possibility to add it later," she said in an interview. "Imagine a really accurate Google- or Yahoo!-powered book search. Now imagine them licensing that technology to a library, or even giving it for free in exchange for the ability to deliver ads. All of a sudden you've wormed your way into another major area of information and you've further ingrained your brand into the minds of the people that need search the most."  

The alliance has held discussions that are in the "early stages" with both publishers and television broadcasters about using their material, David Mandlebrot, vice president for search development at Yahoo!, said in an interview. He said any money that might be made from the search engine would be put back into the alliance.

Content for the OCA will initially come from the University of California, the U.K.'s National Archives, the University of Toronto and the European Archive. Other members of the group include Hewlett-Packard's (HPQ) HP labs, Adobe Systems (ADBE) and O'Reilly Media.

"Bringing the treasures of our libraries and archives to a worldwide readership is in the interest of many organizations," said Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, in a statement. The organization is a nonprofit group that's building a digital library and also is a member of the alliance.

The U.S. publishing industry, which had questioned Google's plan, was more receptive to the Open Content Alliance. Pat Schroeder, the former congresswoman who heads the trade group the Association of American Publishers, said she was "encouraged" by the alliance's initiative.

"The initiative seems to respect the rights of creators to determine how their works will be used, and that has been our basic concern," she said in a statement through a spokeswoman.

A Google spokesman couldn't immediately be reached for comment. Shares of Yahoo! rose 12 cents to $33.96. Google rose 60 cents to $317.26.

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