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Europe urged to hasten book digitisation

Europe could pull ahead of Google in the digitisation of books as long as it acts swiftly, information society and media commissioner Viviane Reding has said
Written by Carly Newman, Contributor

The European Commission has called on Europe to hasten its measures to digitise books, after concerns were raised about the impact Google Books could have on the continent's copyright holders.

Information society and media commissioner Viviane Reding made the rallying call on Tuesday as the Commission announced its Communication on Copyright in the Knowledge Economy, a strategy document that lays out measures to be taken to digitise and disseminate books in Europe.

"Europe should seize this opportunity to take the lead, and to ensure that books digitisation takes place on the basis of European copyright law, and in full respect of Europe's cultural diversity," Reding said in a statement on Tuesday.

She added: "Europe, with its rich cultural heritage, has most to offer and most to win from books digitisation. 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."

The strategy document states that, for existing digital libraries to flourish, a solution must be found for orphaned works, whose uncertain copyright status is holding back their digitisation.

On Saturday, German chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly opposed Google's scheme to digitise millions of books, saying that the German government rejected the scanning of books without any copyright protection.

According to the Commission, were the Google Books Settlement to be approved, the vast number of European works in US libraries that have been digitised by Google would be available only to consumers and researchers in the US, but not in Europe.

Google said in September that European books still listed as commercially available will not appear in its online registry of orphaned or out-of-print works unless the rights holders give their express authorisation. This came after the European Commission began a series of discussions seeking precise details of the settlement and the number of European works likely to be affected.

Judge Denny Chin has set a November deadline for the submission of a new Google Books settlement after the October hearing was delayed. This delay followed requests from parties including the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers, who felt they could not support the current settlement and its granting to Google Books unique rights to scan out-of-print books still protected by copyright law.

According to a European Commission spokesperson, the full Communication on Copyright in the Knowledge Economy will be released in full in the next few days.

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