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Microsoft hits the books in Britain

Amid book-scanning controversy, Microsoft teams with the British Library to digitize 25 million pages for MSN.

Microsoft announced on Friday that it is teaming up with the British Library to digitize 25 million pages of content for its MSN Book Search.

Microsoft's partnership with the British Library calls for digitizing approximately 100,000 books next year. The books, which have expired copyright protection, will be digitized and searchable through the new MSN Book Search service. A public beta of the service is expected to be offered sometime next year.

Microsoft is also working with the British Library to build its digital object management system, designed to enable long-term storage, access and preservation of digitized works such as e-journals, e-books and CD-ROMs. The company is providing advice, software tools and technical support to the development of the library's National Digital Library.

"This partnership helps us fulfill our vision of promoting ready access to our collection for everyone who wants to use it. This is great news for research and scholarship, and will give unparalleled access to our vast collections to people all over the world," Lynne Brindley, chief executive of the British Library, said in a statement.

Microsoft's partnership with the British Library, which expands its efforts to digitize books and make them searchable, comes at time when the number of competitors and controversy over bringing books online is on the rise.

Google, for example, reiterated on Thursday that it plans to resume with its controversial practice of digitizing copyright books. Those who oppose must ask to opt out of the program. And on Thursday, and Random House announced separate plans to digitize books and sell access to the content.

Meanwhile, Microsoft, Yahoo, the Internet Archive and others have joined the Open Content Alliance project that is designed to digitize books and archives around the world, and to allow them to be searchable with any search engine. The Open Content Alliance plans to digitize only those works in the public domain, or whose author has given permission to scan in the work.