Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Google book digitization prompts the EU to rethink copyright; Ars Technica, 10/19/09

John Timmer, Ars Technica; Google book digitization prompts the EU to rethink copyright:

"The legal settlement that would sanctify Google's book digitization efforts may be on hold, but that hasn't stopped the sniping over digitization in general, and Google's specific role in vending e-books. The Frankfurt Book Fair, a major publishing event, is playing host to the latest skirmishes over what role Google and other organizations should play in controlling access to digitized material. Google continues to insist that it's doing the world a favor by preserving knowledge and bringing lost books back to the public, but at least some European academics are blasting the company's statements as propaganda. In the meantime, however, the EU itself has used the Fair to announce an effort to update its copyright laws and launch its own pan-European digital library.

The Google book settlement was not well received within the EU, in part because of the same sorts of competition concerns that caused the US Department of Justice to weigh in against it. But Europeans had some distinct concerns, as Google has scanned copies of European works that reside in US Libraries, even though these were never licensed for US distribution. This unlicensed content was especially problematic given the settlement's structure, which would allow Google to distribute the works unless their owners explicitly opted out.

Google eventually made some concessions in an attempt to mollify its European critics, and these seem to have at least produced some fruitful discussions. Today, the European Commission released a statement entitled "Copyright in the Knowledge Economy" that suggests that the EU may be ready to tackle copyright reform for digital works.

The document describes extensive consultations with stakeholders, including libraries and publishers, and discusses the impact that digitization could have on improving access to orphaned works, preserving content, and making works accessible to the disabled. Although all of these are presented as a public good, the documents and statements by Commissioners that accompanied its release make it clear that Google was a major impetus for this effort. The company is mentioned by name several times, and Commissioner Viviane Reding said that updating the rules governing books had acquired a degree of urgency due to Google's actions: "If we act swiftly, pro-competitive European solutions on books digitisation may well be sooner operational than the solutions presently envisaged under the Google Books Settlement in the United States."

Of course, acting swiftly may be a relative thing, given that the EU has yet to even harmonize the rules governing copyrighted books among its member states...

[T]he EU government also had an open access announcement to make at the meeting. It's gone back and digitized all 50 years of its own documents, and has placed all 12 million pages online at the EU Bookshop. The documents are available to the public for free in PDF form, and will eventually appear in the Europeana digital archive."


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