Google makes concessions to European publishers

As hearings on Google's digitization project kick off in Europe, the company says European books still listed as commercially available will not be included in its online registry.

Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
Leslie Katz led a team that explored the intersection of tech and culture, plus all manner of awe-inspiring science, from space to AI and archaeology. When she's not smithing words, she's probably playing online word games, tending to her garden or referring to herself in the third person.
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Leslie Katz
2 min read

In a move to assuage European publishers' concerns over book digitization, Google on Monday said European books still listed as commercially available will not be included in its online registry of orphaned and out-of-print works--unless rights holders give their express authorization.

The search giant also said it will let two non-U.S. representatives onto the eight-person board of the Books Rights Registry, which was set up to govern the proposed books settlement reached with U.S. publishers and authors who sued Google in 2005. Plaintiffs alleged that the company's digitizing initiative amounted to "massive" copyright infringement.

Under the terms of the settlement, Google agreed to pay the authors and publishers $125 million. The company will also be responsible for selling access to copyrighted works in its repository. Most of the revenues from such access would go to the authors and publishers.

But the U.S settlement--which has been alternately hailed by civil rights groups as a way to bridge the Digital Divide and hampered by opposition from authors and privacy advocates--will only apply to users in this country.

Google made its conciliatory gestures as the European Commission kicked off a series of discussions aimed at "seeking precise details on the exact scope of the settlement" and "how many European works or publications will potentially be affected."

At a hearing in Brussels Monday, organizations representing various European publishers, libraries, rights holders, and businesses involved in Internet commerce criticized the proposed settlement as it currently stands, saying it would lead to "a de facto monopoly" in the emerging digital books market.

Representing France at the hearing, Nicolas George of the country's Ministry of Culture said the deal presents "a clear and evident risk for cultural diversity," according to The New York Times.

"Google could unilaterally decide no longer to give access or modify access through a ranking scheme," George said, and for "political and ideological considerations."

The debates are expected to continue this week. On the first day of the events, Viviane Reding, the EU's commissioner for information society and media, and Charlie McCreevy, commissioner for the bloc's internal market, said in a joint statement that "it is time for Europe to turn over a new e-leaf on digital books and copyright," and that book digitization such as that being attempted by Google highlights the "need to adapt Europe's still very fragmented copyright legislation."

"The challenge for EU policymakers is to ensure a regulatory framework which paves the way for a rapid roll-out of services, similar to those made possible in the U.S. by the recent settlement, to European consumers and to the European library and research communities," the commissioners said.