Thursday, July 23, 2009

Japanese e-library project could lose out to Google Book Search without government flex; Mainichi Daily News, 7/24/09

Op-Ed: Mainichi Daily News; Japanese e-library project could lose out to Google Book Search without government flex:

"Imagine being able to read and search all the books in the world on the Internet. Such convenience has taken a step closer to reality, thanks to U.S. search engine giant Google's new Book Search service. However, it may be too early to rejoice over the feat without reservation.

Under the U.S. copyright law's fair use provision, literary and other works can be used without right-holders' permission for public purposes, and Google's electronic library project is based on this provision. And, while it may serve the public good to allow people to use literary documents amassed at conventional libraries, U.S. publishers have opposed the publication of books on the Internet without their permission and brought the case into the court.

The lawsuit ended up in a settlement and, if the U.S. court approves the settlement, Google will be entitled to launch an e-library project for a fee for books the company deems out of print or unavailable in exchange for a royalty. The settlement, however, applies outside the U.S. as well, under international copyright protection conventions.

The case has wreaked havoc on book publishers worldwide since right-holders will be automatically incorporated into the settlement unless they specifically opt out.

In the meantime, Japan's National Diet Library (NDL) is also accelerating the digitization of its book collection. The move follows a recent revision to Japan's Copyright Law, allowing the NDL to digitize books without right-holders' permission, as well as a large budget increase for digitization of books under the supplementary budget.

However, one needs to obtain permission from individual right-holders before publicizing digitized books online in Japan. If things are left as is, Google is certain to become dominant in the e-library project.

There's also a concern from a cultural perspective. Since Google Book Search mainly deals with book collections at libraries in the U.S., search results would inevitably tend to show more books published in the U.S. It would not only help expand the influence of the English language but could also prompt further prevalence of American ways of thinking and interpretation around the world.

Digitization of books and their distribution on the Web is an issue that relates to the concept of soft power, with which countries aspire to gain a greater voice in the international community through attaining support for their unique culture and values.

Online distribution for a fee has already become common in the music industry. It is hoped that the Japanese government will flexibly proceed with legal revisions so as to facilitate online distribution of books' content in Japan, including the e-library project."

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