Sunday, October 25, 2009

European laws present challenges for Google Books; CNet, 10/23/09

Tom Krazit, CNet; European laws present challenges for Google Books:

"Even the hardiest Google opponents agree that a digital library of the scope Google is proposing will have tangible benefits for the world. This is especially true for the European libraries, which store books dating as far as the 17th century that are crumbling with the advance of age. Few people are able to see those books because of their value and the remoteness of their location, but putting them online could allow the world to read books they would have once traveled thousands of miles to see, allow researchers from around the world to study their contents, and preserve the knowledge for future generations.

But some, such as German Prime Minister Angela Merkel, are wary about a single company controlling such a library. "The German government has a clear position: copyrights have to be protected on the Internet," The Guardian quoted her as saying last week.

In any event, at the moment European libraries are on the outside when it comes to unlocking the knowledge stored in the millions of out-of-print but copyright-protected books on their shelves. Google's argument all along in the U.S. has been that it was allowed to scan those types of books under fair-use laws, which was disputed by authors and publishers in 2005 but authorization to do so is a key part of the proposed settlement.

Copyright laws vary across Europe, but the concept of fair use generally does not exist, and most books are protected by copyright for 70 to 80 years after the death of the author, the librarians said. Historical works are in the public domain, but that's just a fraction of the overall number of books stored in libraries throughout the world...

Manuela Palafox, head of digital editions at the University of Complutense of Madrid, Spain, took it a step further. "The most important thing in Europe is to review our copyright laws. We need to adapt it to the digital age."

This, of course, is part of the opposition to Google's settlement in the U.S. Instead of leaving it up to Congress to reform U.S. copyright laws to settle once and for all whether digitizing out-of print but copyright-protected books should be allowed, the settlement is granting that unique sweeping right to a single corporation, and forcing others who may want to digitize these books to cut licensing deals with an organization funded by Google and staffed by directors picked by the groups representing authors and publishers.

So while Google works feverishly on a new settlement in the U.S. ahead of a November 9th deadline, its legal battles may be just beginning. Chinese authors are reportedly gearing up to oppose Google's efforts, and its mission of organizing the world's information may be stymied if European copyright laws forbid the digitization of a huge swath of books published in the last century."

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