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Google tries to assuage EU doubters of its US Books deal

Paul Meller | Sept. 8, 2009
The European Commission says private sector help is needed to digitize European books, but copyright issues persist

BRUSSELS, 7 SEPTEMBER 2009 - As the European Union examines a U.S. deal between Google and publishers, the company made concessions on Monday designed to address concerns its book digitization project has raised in Europe.

U.S. publishers sued Google for failing to respect their copyright when the company started digitizing books. They then reached a revenue-sharing settlement covering books that are still copyright-protected, ones whose copyright has expired, as well as the huge number of books that are technicaly still protected but have fallen out of print and where the copyright owner can't be located.

In a letter to 16 European book publishing companies, the search giant proposed giving two of the eight director positions on its proposed U.S. book registry to non-U.S. representatives, a person close to the company said Monday.

Google paid US$125 million to create the registry which will act as middleman between Google and the publishers and ensure that copyright owners are compensated.

The company also promised not to include European works in the digitizing process in the U.S. without consulting their publishers first.

Resistance to the U.S. deal is strong among some politicians, libraries and publishers, particularly in Germany and France.

Five organizations representing E.U. publishers, libraries, rights holders and businesses active in Internet commerce told the European Commission at a hearing on Monday that the proposed U.S. Google book settlement is unacceptable in its present form, because it would lead to "a de facto monopoly" in the emerging digital books market.

"We should not let a single U.S. entity dictate an international model of rights recording," said Peter Brantley of the Internet Archive and Open Book Alliance, one of the five organizations.

Google doesn't expect to win them all over with the two initiatives, but it is having more success winning support for its book digitizing ambitions in Brussels.

The U.S. settlement between Google and U.S. publishers, which is still under scrutiny by a New York court, was the subject of a one-day hearing hosted by the European Commission Monday.

It will be followed Tuesday by a series of one-on-one meetings between Information Commissioner Viviane Reding  and, among others, Dan Clancy, Google's top executive responsible for the Books project.

Many supporters of Google's U.S. book digitization project in Europe, including some Commission officials and public libraries, want the E.U. to strike a similar deal to the U.S. settlement.

"Europe should definitely move in the same direction," said Sylvia Van Peteghem, director of the Ghent University Library. Her library is one of seven prestigious European libraries already cooperating with Google to digitize copies of books in their collection for which the copyright has expired.

In a joint statement with Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy, Reding said Monday that "digitisation of books is a task of Herculean proportions which the public sector needs to guide, but where it also needs private-sector support."

 

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