BELGIUM: EU due to start hearing of Google Books digitisation project amid European opposition
BELGIUM: EU due to start hearing of Google Books digitisation project amid European opposition
- Title: BELGIUM: EU due to start hearing of Google Books digitisation project amid European opposition
- Date: 7th September 2009
- Summary: BRUSSELS, BELGIUM (FILE) (REUTERS) EXTERIOR EUROPEAN COMMISSION EU FLAG
- Embargoed: 22nd September 2009 13:00
- Location: Belgium
- Country: Belgium
- Topics: Communications,Lifestyle
- Reuters ID: LVACXQZRB267SRXZDYPIJVKPWWOE
- Story Text: The European Commission is holding a hearing on Monday (September 7) that could speed up radical changes already under way in our book reading, searching and researching habits.
The executive body will be listening to Google's plan to make millions of books available online. It will also study a recent US deal the internet company reached with American author and publisher groups that will enable readers to search through millions of copyrighted books, browse passages and purchase copies.
The US settlement hinges on Google spending 125 million US dollar to compile a Book Rights Registry to protects authors and publishers.
But Germany has already complained that the US deal flouts German and EU copyright law and submitted a written argument to a New York court on September 1st.
Google, on a major campaign to soothe EU worries, insists its plans are not sinister. By digitising the world's out of print books and in copyright books, in full, its says it will connect readers worldwide with precious books everywhere on the planet.
Their motto is that Google will revive books that would otherwise linger on old library shelves by putting them out in the public domain in a shared, world wide webb.
"If you think that of all the books that have been published since the beginning of time, a very small percentage of books still remain in print. This does not mean however that the books that are out of print don't have an audience and I think that conceptually every book has a reader. Its hard to find each other but it has a reader. So, I think with the internet, these books are coming back to life," says Google's Book Patnerships Director Santiago de la Mora.
The American author of 'Chaos', James Gleick, who is also a member of the Authors' Guild and Association of American Publishers, says the US settlement should not be seen as a blue print for Europe but more of an experiment in what can be done in Europe to protect authors and publishers.
The EU has started a digitisation programme of its own called Europeana. The greatest contributors to the this European digital library are France and Germany who wanted to build an alternative to Google which they fear could end up with a monopoly on digital books.
But few other countries have contributed and the project is moving at crawling pace which led the European Commissioner Viviane Reding to praise Google as a capable private venture and a good way forward.
The September 7 hearing is also intended to seek advice from Google and other interested parties over ways to improve Europeana.
Gleick says the EU must find its own way of protecting its authors and publishers and guarantee they are remunerated for their work in the age of digitisation but stresses the growth of virtual books is an unstoppable force backed up by huge popular demand.
The Chaos author says the Google deal will return millions of out-of-print books from the limbo that publishers who didn't want to print them anymore had thrown them into. He adds that any money made from advertising or licensing fees will go partly to Google and mostly to the rights-holders.
"This settlement in the US is an odd sort of path. If you were god and you said, ok we have all these books in American libraries, lets get them online, you would not necessarily have said, well Googol can do it. You might have said 'lets pass some legislation' , 'lets give the libraries millions of dollars and do it themselves' , 'lets have a new bureaucracy in Washington do it'. I don't what your personal idea would have been but it was not happening. And it hasn't happened in Europe either and I know that every country in Europe is trying to figure out 'does it have to happen' first of all and what's the right path. So that's why I say this is only an experiment. What I believe as an author is key is to make sure that putting the books on line does not mean releasing them freely to the public when they are still copyrighted books," Gleick says.
And this is why Ghent University Library, in the Flemish part of Belgium, agreed to sign an agreement with Googol to digitise all of its out of print and out of copyright books.
The library is one of the biggest in Belgium and the dominating tower alone contains 48kms worth of books.
The chief librarian there says libraries are simply not geared to scanning so many books themselves. They don't have the staff, they don't have the money and the university's board has little interest in such a project.
"This would never, never be a priority within a university because for a lot of people this is just old stuff, which is for them not important. Within a university you have all sciences and the major sciences being the applied sciences and sciences but not arts and humanities. And these people are also used to use the book and search the book. So it would never have been a priority," says chief librarian Sylvia van Peteghem.
The library has a Googol Room in which they choose the books to be scanned.
Books that are too frayed, too big or uncut will not be sent.
The rest are barcoded and then boxed to locations Googol will not divulge to be scanned and pushed onto the web.
These books are available in full text to anyone in the world.
Anything published beyond 1869 and still in copyright as well as all other books in print and in copyright cannot be viewed in full on the internet on Googol. Those are offered either as titles with links to purchase them on line or off line, or available in snippets for browsing.
Money paid to access those books in full are shared between Googol and the authors and publishers with most of the money going to the last two.
But what irks Germany and worries France and the United Kingdom with the Googol Books project are two issues: it resents the fact that European books in US libraries will now be accessible worldwide without prior permission from the copyright holders back home who are outside of the US deal with Google.
The second worry is that Googol could corner the market and end up owning all of the world's books.
Googol believes Europe misunderstands the US settlement and how it would benefit the EU.
"People in Europe don't understand what this Googol book deal is about in the United States and how it aims to resolve, or at least take a laboratory, as he said, to bring back all these lost books back to life. The commission is holding a hearing with a view to explain but there isnt a demand on Google's part. We think this will speed knowledge and understanding of what's going on in the United States and that Europe has to deal with the same issues in order not to miss the knowledge train as it takes off from the station," says William Echikson, of Googol Communications.
But another question on everyone's mind is whether this movement and the US agreement heralds the end of the paper book and the end of libraries.
Van Peteghem doesn't think so. In fact she thinks it will promote the paper book not bury it, because information about it is more accessible than before. She cites the example of a diary recently published of a Flemish lady's war days in Ghent.
The library made the whole content available on the internet whilst a publisher printed an abridged version.
Fearing that book sales would drop if people had access to the author's writings on the internet he was sceptical of agreeing to the library's request to include the web link address in the book.
He agreed, however, and the book was sold out.
Peteghem says the link just increased people's interest rather than dampen their desire to have a hard copy of the book.
"There was a publisher in Belgium who wanted to publish a book, a selection of the good parts because there was a lot of repetition in it and the publisher was afraid because we really wanted to say yes for the publication, in paper, of the diary, but we wanted the opportunity to keep the full text online. And the publisher did, it was in the newspaper, it was in a press conference and the link is in the book. And, no, the book was sold out, so it did not prevent people from buying the book. And there were some people who bought the book who told me afterwards that they bought the book in paper to read it in their bed, the train or where ever but that they used the digital version to search, if they wanted to remember what she wrote about the flower market or the fishmonger or whatever," van Peteghem says.
So the jury is out now as to whether authors and publishers in Europe will follow Gleick's advice and support the Googol project whilst pushing for the creation of an authors registry to protect their rights in the face of an unstoppable digitisation process.
It will also be up to the EU to see if Googol will own the largest share of the market in digital book or if it can encourage other public or private groups to compete against them.
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