This morning, Microsoft unveiled its latest online service, Windows Live Book Search, which lets users search the contents of digitally archived books. The service competes with the recently released Google Book Search. But Live Book Search--which is currently available as only a beta in the United States--includes the contents of books that have traditionally been "off-limits" because they've been out of print for so long.

"This release makes tens of thousands of out-of-copyright books available from our library-scanning initiative, including books from the University of California, the University of Toronto, and the British Library," Microsoft Director of Publisher Evangelism Cliff Guren wrote in the Live Search blog this morning. "In addition, we are announcing new partnerships with the New York Public Library and the American Museum of Veterinary Medicine ... There is a lot of trusted and authoritative content that can only be found in books today. With this beta launch, we've taken our first steps toward making that content discoverable and easy to read."

Microsoft said it won't engage in the "mass scanning" of copyrighted works and will instead give publishers the ability to opt in with copyrighted publications. This move is an implicit stab at competitor Google, which raised the ire of book publishers earlier this year when it announced plans to scan copyrighted books and make the content available online. Several publishers, authors, and the Authors Guild sued Google in the United States and elsewhere because of this questionable practice.

The initial public beta of Live Book Search is now available to US users from the Live.com Web site.
http://books.live.com