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EC To Turn New “E-Leaf” On Google Books Deal

The European Commission has called for a fresh approach to the digitisation of Europe’s books following a meeting today to discuss Google’s book deal

Europe looks closer to resolving copyright issues first raised across the Atlantic by Google’s book digitisation deal, following a meeting between the European Commission (EC) and key industry stakeholders today.

The statement from the meeting in Brussels came out in broad support of digitisation, after having been convened following the agreement reached with Google in the US in October last year, settling a class-action lawsuit brought by US authors and publishers against the search giant for violating their copyright with its Google Book Search offering.

In a joint statement issued late this afternoon, Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Information Society and Media, and Charlie McCreevy, Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services said: “It is time for Europe to turn over a new e-leaf on digital books and copyright.”

Although the US deal still has to be approved by a US court and has been opposed by Amazon, Reding and McCreevy seem keen to follow the example it set, where Google agreed to compensate rights holders whose works were scanned and pay them 63 per cent of revenues earned from the commercial uses Google makes of the books, and pay for the creation of a Book Rights Registry.

The Commissioners stated: “This week, we and our services will discuss the challenge of digitising books in Europe with right holders, libraries, IT companies, consumer organisations and with every other party that takes an interest in finding the best solution.”

They said Europe was facing a very important cultural and economic challenge, where only some 1 per cent of the books in Europe’s national libraries have been digitised so far, “leaving an enormous task ahead of us, but also opening up new cultural and market opportunities”.

The negotiations initiated today by the EC has will aim to gain a better understanding of the interests involved and help the Commission “define a truly European solution in the interest of European consumers,” having complained in the past that it had little input into the US deal.

They also said that, given the size of the task ahead the private-sector efforts of the likes of Google and its Book Search were to be welcomed, but that the public sector needs to act as a guide.

“It is therefore time to recognise that partnerships between public and private bodies can combine the potential of new technologies and private investments with the rich collections of public institutions built up over the centuries. If we are too slow to go digital, Europe’s culture could suffer in the future.”

They also called for “fair rewards for authors,” but cautioned: “We also need to take a hard look at the copyright system we have today in Europe.”

Fair access across the region, remuneration and the potential contribution of Europeana, Europe’s digital library were all touted.

The EC now plans to hold further meetings with stakeholders, the European Parliament and the Council to discuss these areas in greater detail and tackle the fragmented European copyright system once and for all.

Until then, Google’s automatic book scanning initiative is limited to books whose authors have been dead for more than 70 years and are therefore not covered by copyright,