Microsoft on Tuesday launches a fierce attack on Google over its “cavalier” approach to copyright, accusing the internet company of exploiting books, music, films and television programmes without permission.

Tom Rubin, associate general counsel for Microsoft, will say in a speech in New York that while authors and publishers find it hard to cover costs, “companies that create no content of their own, and make money solely on the back of other people’s content, are raking in billions through advertising and initial public offerings”.

Mr Rubin’s remarks, presaged in an article in Tuesday’s Financial Times, come as Google faces criticism and legal pressure from media companies over services allowing users to search online for books, films, television programmes and news. Viacom, the US media group, instructed YouTube, which Google owns, to remove 100,000 clips of copyright material.

The Authors Guild and a group of publishers backed by the Association of American Publishers have separately sued Google for making digital copies of copyrighted books from libraries without permission.

Mr Rubin will tell the AAP’s annual meeting that Google’s decision to take digital copies of all books in various library collections, unless publishers tell it not to, “systematically violates copyright, deprives authors and publishers of an important avenue for monetising their works and, in doing so, undermines incentives to create”.

He will say Google is breaching copyright law because it has “bestowed upon itself the unilateral right to make entire copies of copyrighted books”. Google thinks it is acting legally because it publishes only “snippets” of copyrighted works unless it has the publisher’s permission.

But Mr Rubin will say in Tuesday’s speech: “Google is saying to you and other copyright owners: ‘Trust us, you’re protected. We’ll keep the digital copies secure. We’ll only show snippets. We won’t harm you, we’ll promote you’.

“But …anyone who visits YouTube …will immediately recognise that it follows a similar cavalier approach to copyright.”

Microsoft is trying to differentiate itself from Google by portraying itself as more sympathetic to copyright holders than Google, and has sent a letter to executives of big media conglomerates, offering to work with them to eliminate piracy from Soapbox, a new video service on MSN.

Patricia Schroeder, AAP president, said it had agreed to work with Microsoft and others to develop principles on responsible book search.

Google said it believed it was acting legally and ethically in providing snippets of in-copyright books and added that it removed books promptly when contacted by publishers. It said it generated more than $3bn of advertising revenues for other internet sites last year, which showed that it did not simply exploit the content of others.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023. All rights reserved.
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