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Europe aims to rival Google with digital library

European Commission plans to preserve citizens' "collective memory" by digitizing Europe's written and audiovisual heritage.

The European Commission isn't about to sit back and let Google have control over digitizing the world's information--it's planning to turn Europe's "historical and cultural heritage into digital content."

According to an EC announcement on Friday, the aim of the project is to digitize and preserve records of Europe's heritage--including books, film fragments, photographs, manuscripts, speeches and music--and make it available online to all European citizens. To make this happen, the European Union is proposing high-level cooperation between the member states and has set a deadline of Jan. 20, 2006, for first comments on the plans.

"Without a collective memory, we are nothing and can achieve nothing. It defines our identity, and we use it continuously for education, work and leisure," said Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding.

The Commission acknowledged that the process of making the resources in Europe's libraries and archives available on the Internet "is not straightforward." It identified three key areas for action: digitization, online accessibility and digital preservation. The Commission also noted that several such initiatives are already under way within Europe, including the Collect Britain project in the United Kingdom, which is backed by the British Library and partly funded by the U.K.'s National Lottery.

The issue of collecting the heritage of the world, and in particular its literature, has come into sharp focus recently with Google's efforts to amass the world's knowledge in one search engine. That plan hit legal problems last month when Google was accused of "a plain and brazen violation of copyright law" by a group representing thousands of authors in the U.S.

Yahoo is set to announce Monday that it's working with the Internet Archive, the University of California and others on a project to digitize books in archives around the world and make them searchable through any Web search engine and downloadable for free.

Colin Barker of ZDNet UK reported from London. CNET's Elinor Mills contributed to this report from San Francisco.