Given all the controversy, legal action and anti-trust scrutiny surrounding Google’s plans to digitise millions of books, the search giant has been given some welcome backing from European Commissioner Viviane Redding. The outspoken
French Luxembourger politician and former journalist, responsible for Europe’s digital media policies, said in a Q&A document (MS word) to accompany a new policy consultation: “Google (NSDQ: GOOG) Books is a commercial project developed by an important player… It is good to see that new business models are evolving which could allow bringing more content to an increasing number of consumers.” Release.
Keen to boost the number of books for the EU’s official online library Europeana as well as digital repositories like Google Books, Reding wants to deregulate European copyright laws to allow out-of-print and orphan works to be digitised. She said in a speech last month: “I do understand the fears of many publishers and libraries facing the market power of Google. But I also share the frustrations of many internet companies which would like to offer interesting business models in this field, but cannot do so because of the fragmented regulatory system in Europe.”
That’s all in stark contrast to the position taken by the US Justice Department which in July launched an investigation into Google’s $125 million settlement with the Authors’ Guild, the Association of American Publishers and others.
Five major book publishers first sued Google on copyright grounds way back in 2005 and European publishers have been just as wary. In May the European Council of Ministers, prompted by complaints from Germany, voiced their opposition to Google’s books plan, declaring it “irreconcilable with the principles of European copyright law”. As the law stands, authors must give consent before their works can be published online — making it impossible to publish “orpahn works” where no owner can be identified.
So, to get over that legal hurdle, Reding has called for European copyright law to updated in line with the American system and make create clearer guidelines on the status of digital works. She argues that 90 percent of books in physical European libraries are out of print while 10 to 20 percent are orphan works, both of which cannot currently be digitised by Google or anyone. The consultation document (pdf) asks a series of questions on digital content and public answers can be submitted until November 15. The EC holds a round table discussion with publishers on the Google Books issue on September 7.
Europeana launched in November, but for Reding it simply isn’t enough: “Europeana alone will not suffice to put Europe on the digital map of the world. We need to work better together to make Europe’s copyright framework fit for the digital age.” Europeana now has 4.6 million items and Reding has set a target of 10 million by 2010.