Google removes European titles from digital books deal

Sep 07, 2009 by Roddy Thomson
The logo of Internet search engine company Google its headquarters in Mountain View California. Internet giant Google will remove all European books currently on the market from a US agreement to digitise and sell online books that were out-of-print in the United States

Internet giant Google will remove all books still on sale in Europe from a US online market offering millions of titles that are out of print in the United States, the company said Monday.

Concessions to European publishers come amid controversial plans that opponents say represent a "big landgrab" of the world's stock of up to nine million out-of-print and out-of-copyright books.

Google, which counts some three million titles potentially in play outside the US, must instead negotiate agreements with European publishers and authors.

"Books that are commercially available in Europe will be treated as commercially available under the settlement," Google said in a statement.

"Such books can only be displayed to US users if expressly authorised by rights holders," it added, as hearings got under way in Brussels on Monday to determine the European Union's response to the US deal.

The company also promised to bring a European publisher and a European author onto its board.

Previously, rights holders were considered to have "opted in by doing nothing," according to British trade magazine The Bookseller's managing editor, Philip Jones.

Google has digitised millions of books already, which Jones says "people have described as a big landgrab." He stressed: "Publishers (still) want to see more clarity."

Angela Mills Wade, executive director of the European Publishers Council, said the definition of "commercially available" remained a problem area for some members.

She said: "If a copy of an English-language book published in Europe finds its way to a US library, Google could scan it even if the rights haven't been sold in the US market, possibly harming the publisher's own opportunities to sell those rights."

Germany said last week it opposed the US legal settlement citing similar grounds, although the EU itself wants to dust down out-of-print and so-called 'orphaned' books for future generations.

Jessica Sanger of the German booksellers association said: "It's a step in the right direction, (but) it's not enough for our members to sleep peacefully."

Google reached a class action settlement last October with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers to a copyright infringement lawsuit they filed against the Internet powerhouse in 2005.

Under the settlement, the company agreed to pay 125 million dollars (equivalent to 87 million euros) to resolve outstanding claims and establish an independent Book Rights Registry.

Scanned books no longer on sale -- in over 400 languages, Latin being one of the biggest -- can be bought online, with 63 percent of proceeds going to publishers and authors, and Google retaining the rest.

Google Book Engineering director Dan Clancy said demand for out-of-print books amounts to three percent of total book sales, and that 30,000 rights holders have opted-in.

In response to criticism his organisation is seeking a monopoly, Clancy said the Book Rights Registry "can and will licence works to other proprietors."

Brussels needs to "take a hard look at the copyright system we have today in Europe," according to a statement issued by Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding and Internal Markets Commissioner Charlie McCreevy.

"Digitisation of books is a task of Herculean proportions which the public sector needs to guide, but where it also needs private-sector support," they underlined.

Clancy told a press conference that he "would love 27 harmonised copyright markets" across Europe.

Amazon -- a major player in the electronic book sector through its e-reader, the Kindle -- was joined in opposing the US settlement last month by Microsoft and Yahoo!.

Already facing anti-trust scrutiny and privacy concerns, Google still needs the approval of a US District Court judge, who is to hold a "fairness hearing" in New York on October 7.

(c) 2009 AFP

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Sean_W
3 / 5 (2) Sep 07, 2009
Only made available with permission from the rights holders they say. And for those which are out of copyright one would need a time machine? Europeans have scored a major victory by making their unwanted older books unavailable to Americans. Maybe after lunch they can think of some other way to make their culture irrelavant in order to thwart nasty old corporate greed.
Caliban
1 / 5 (1) Sep 07, 2009
I suspect that this has more to do with European publihers not having thought of doing this themselves first. Why would any one bother publishing an edition of an out-of-print, out-of-copyright work, if it can be purchased online? To my mind, at least, e-books are a regrettable solution to this problem -under the best of circumstances- but since apparenlty the EU does not recognise the notion of public domain(?), I'm sure they will hold all this up until they can agree on a way to get their hands on the money first. It is certainly a blow against scholarship, and even general interest, as it means that you don't get access to anything without paying the man first. Or purchasing your ticket to the continent to make in-person visits to the libraries, museums and private collections there. So yes, nasty old corporate greed- and far from thwarted.
vika_Tae
not rated yet Sep 07, 2009
Actually, I kinda suspect the problem is that Google are a corporation, not a government entity. Brussels simply does not believe a company can be trusted with such a task.
Caliban
1 / 5 (1) Sep 07, 2009
You've a point there, Vika. But I don't think that Brussels will have any problem assigning the same rights to some EU corporation or consortium.
docknowledge
not rated yet Sep 07, 2009
It has to to with Google being based in California, politically, legally and physically a long distance from Europe, where they haven't had a chance to buy, co-opt and undermine laws.

It's easier to see that Google is infringing on every intellectual property right that they can get away with -- if your hand isn't in the pot.
russcelt
3 / 5 (2) Sep 08, 2009
American scholarship and capitalism threatening the illusion of European cultural hegemony. Books go out of print because they are no longer considered commercially viable. The free dissemination of knowledge goes against centuries of European imperialism.
"The challenge for librarians and computer scientists is to let us find the information we want in other people's work; and the challenge for the lawyers and economists is to arrange the payment structures so that we are encouraged to use the work of others rather than re-create it." ~ Michael Lesk
RayCherry
not rated yet Sep 08, 2009
While I can understand the comments above, being based on the distrust between the governments, political and comercial systems of the two separate but co-dependent continents, I rather think there are more pragmatic problems in European publishing concerning languages, and the potential value of existing literature when reprinted in modern languages (including, but not only, English).

Whilst copyright, patent and property rights are well established in contemporary culture, much of the old (even ancient) European literature that has current financial (and academic) value was not created under the current political or legal systems, and has outstanding disputes about its origins, rightful ownership and what may be done with the literature by the current custodians, (be they public libraries, museums or private collectors).

Electronic publishing raises these old disputes into the limelight (or LED lighting, to be more contemporary), and causes many 'sleeping dogs' to shift from where they have been 'laying in peace'. These property disputes can not be handled by the laws and rules of modern America. Sorry. In fact, each country, culture, language has its literature and its many historical disputes to resolve or mitigate before those pages can become 'public property', if indeed they ever can. It's complicated, and rushing in can cause inconvenience and financial damage to individuals, groups and even governments.

The custodians of such literature will have to be encouraged and supported, (their backs covered), as they arrange for a book-by-book evaluation of what can be made available to all, and what will need to go through a thorough legal process to migrate the historical rights to contemporary law.

Financial incentives to perform all this work will have to exist, and yes, some profits will be made. Considering that many custodians have provided conditions for that literature to survive through many decades, and even centuries, to be available to us today, we must accept that some reward for those efforts are expected and long-awaited.

Translations: even though I live in Portugal, I still read most of my literature in English. The Internet has provided access to much literature in English, and much of that has been translated from other languages. For this resource we are all becoming grateful, and perhaps we are all coming closer together as we share literature in a medium that can be widely accessed and understood. The custodians of old books in their original languages, many of which have never before been translated to English - will be aware of what the Internet and modern translation can mean to their collections. Of course they want to earn a profit from them, and so they should. However, many European governments are still in the 'dark ages' when it come to property rights, and those custodians are waiting for conditions to improve before they explore the comercial value of their collections of literature. There is much work to be done to give these books their appropriate legal protection, and their custodians their due rewards for their care and attention in preserving the literature.

Perhaps in modern open-source photocopy download culture, all this seems irrelevant, whimsical or romantic, but for those families who have protected their libraries through wars, migrations, natural disasters, domestic hostilities and criminal acts, (some European countries are still in the process of recovering their own identities after at least two hundred years of unimaginable conditions), that literature represents a significant investment and a value beyond money that has yet to be assessed and recognised by their own culture, before it is converted into a few kilobytes on a public server.

The problem is that copies have already been made. Many of the old books were copied, either by hand or by reprint of an unauthorised publisher, (shock horror - the internet is not the father of all piracy), and those copies have floated into collections that have had more public exposure. Should the existance of a old fraudualant copy be an excuse to ignore the ownership and rights pertaining to the original? Should the copy be used by a modern translator to generate an English (French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese) version with a commercial and academic value without the permission (or even the knowledge) of the current custodian of the original?

The answer is obviously no. If Google is serious about making the world's literature available digitally for current and future generations then they are going to have to do more than 'scan in' every page they can get their hands on. Preserving the metadata is as important, (often more important), than preserving the data itself.

Perhaps Google can assist this process further if they not only present the works, but also the family tree of literature, with all the connections between the works, the authors, the writing schools and guilds, and languages and cultural backgrounds, permitting public submissions and commentary, (such as Wiki), but with academic counselling and evaluation. This could assist in providing the legal systems a framework upon which to base their decisions where ISBN and other comercial/academic catelogs and archives do not exist.

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