SAN FRANCISCO - Microsoft announced Tuesday that it planned to join the online book-search movement with a new service called MSN Book Search.
And in a nod to the growing influence of a recently formed group called the Open Content Alliance, Microsoft announced its plans to join it. The group is working to digitize the contents of millions of books and put them on the Internet, with full text accessible to anyone, while respecting the rights of copyright holders.
Microsoft is making the largest contribution to the alliance to date - $5 million - which is enough to scan about 150,000 books.
In aligning with the Open Content Alliance, MSN is joining forces with its archrival Yahoo, which announced its support of the project this month.
Several universities, including the University of California, Columbia University and Rice University, as well as the Internet Archive and the National Archives of Britain, have joined the alliance.
MSN Book Search will go online in test form early next year. Although the content of out-of-copyright books will be accessible at no charge from MSN Book Search, Microsoft is talking with publishers about how it might charge for books under copyright - perhaps per page, perhaps per chapter.
"We're thinking through a whole host of business models for the in-copyright stuff," said Danielle Tiedt, general manager of search content acquisition at MSN.
Google's service, called Google Print, has come under a great deal of criticism since it was announced nearly a year ago.
Last month, a group of authors sued Google, asserting that Google Print is engaged in copyright infringement. While only text fragments are displayed in the course of a search, a book must be digitized in its entirety to make it searchable, the authors said.
Last week, five large publishing companies - McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education, Penguin Group, Simon & Schuster and John Wiley & Sons - filed a similar lawsuit.
Instead of the "opt-out" approach taken by the Google Print Library Project, which gives copyright holders until Nov. 1 to contact Google if they do not want their work scanned, MSN and other Open Content Alliance members plan to ask copyright holders for permission before digitizing a work.
"We're pretty strongly 'opt-in,' " Ms. Tiedt said. "We're very aligned with protecting copyright and intellectual property."
"We're rolling now, and very few institutions will say no," said Rick Prelinger, administrator of the Open Content Alliance.
The alliance is the brainchild of Brewster Kahle, the founder of the Internet Archive, a nonprofit organization in San Francisco that is building a vast digital library.
Mr. Kahle has said repeatedly that one of his greatest hopes is to have Google join the project. Mr. Kahle said Tuesday that talks with Google seemed to be progressing toward an agreement. Nathan Tyler, a Google spokesman, confirmed Tuesday that Google was speaking with Mr. Kahle about joining the alliance, but there was nothing yet to announce.