SEATTLE - Microsoft Corp. is diving into the business of offering online searches of books and other writings, and says its approach aims to avoid the legal tussles met by rival Google Inc.

The Redmond-based software giant said Tuesday that it will sidestep hot-button copyright issues for now by initially focusing mainly on books, academic materials and other publications that are in the public domain.

Microsoft plans to initially work with an industry organization called the Open Content Alliance to let users search about 150,000 pieces of published material. A test version of the product is promised for next year.

The alliance, whose participants also include top Internet portal Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO - news), is working to make books and other offline content available online without raising the ire of publishers and authors.

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