Interestingly enough, two of the most visible current copyright related conflicts are in the realm of the most classic of all copyrighted media: books. On the one hand, Google books tries to digitize and eventually offer online nothing less then all books ever published. Aside the fundamental question, whether companies should be allowed doing this, the main controversy is around how to compensate authors and publishers of books that are out of stock and of orphan works (see “Google vs. Copyright Collectives“). On the other hand, the book as a medium itself may be changed by e-book reader such as Sony’s “Daily Edition” or Amazon’s “Kindle” (see “Sony’s E-Reader vs. Kindle“). Both allow direct wireless download of books directly to the reader via mobile phone networks. The latter raises a lot of controversy because of its restrictive digital rights management (“Kindle Controvery Continued: ‘Exit’ and ‘Voice’“) and Amazon’s ability to delete books from the reader even after their purchase (see NYT).

In spite of their common field of digital books and publishing, these two controversies evolved relatively independent from one another until very recently Amazon, Yahoo and Microsoft formed the “Open Book Alliance” (see CNET) to counter Google Books. Googles rejoinder was an alliance with Sony (see CBC). This merger of conflicts will, I predict, alter the dynamics in both controversies.

First, at least in the US, the fundamental question, whether large-scale corporate book digitization should be allowed at all, will be off the table once Google has no monopoly in the area.

Second, the pressure on the still fragmented European publisher- and author-lobbies to come up with more standardized and pragmatic suggestions for compensation will rise dramatically. By now, representatives of some European collecting societies such as the German VG Wort seem to think, opting-out of Google Books could solve the problem. It cannot. Keeping German works unavailable by default is just not a sustainable option in a world, where every piece of text will be online or it will not be.

Third, we are experiencing the outset of a great new standard battle about data formats of digital books. In this context, calling an alliance of Amazon, Yahoo and Microsoft “Open Book Alliance” is a telling example of “Newspeak”: While Amazon’s e-book format is the opposite of  Sony’s open “ePub” (see again “Kindle Controvery Continued“), the naming shows that (at least: the impression of) openness may be key for getting a standard diffused and established: