EC Digitization Report: Stronger Rules for Google Books

The European Commission released a report today on Europeana, the E.U.’s digital library project, that made a number of recommendations designed to strengthen and grow the project with an eye towards creating a single public portal through which users could access Europe’s cultural heritage in a digital format.  Specifically, the report called for a more than 50% reduction in the duration of the exclusivity deals that Google signs with libraries, from 15 years to 7 years.  Among other recommendations, the report states that members states must considerably increase funding for digitization in order to make the Europeana portal the “central reference point for Europe’s online cultural heritage, that rules for “orphan works” must be finalized quickly, and that “cultural institutions must have a window of opportunity to digitize material and make it available to the public” with renumeration for rights holders.

The report, delivered today to Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda, and authored by an outside panel of experts is a strong statement of support for the non-profit, public interest solution to the digitization of books.  As one of the authors of the report, CEO of the advertising company Publicis Group Maurice Levy, noted, “we want to give the widest access to the widest audience on a free basis.  Europeana is not based on a business model of profitability.”  The release goes on to note that while public-private partnerships are desirable, they must be transparent, non-exclusive and equitable for all partners, and must result in cross-border access to the digitised material for all.

In the same vein, The New York Times ran a story over the weekend noting that the United States trails its European counterparts in that the U.S. has failed thus far to develop a national digitization strategy.  As a result, America’s book digitization policy has been hijacked by the parties to the proposed Google Book Settlement, which was negotiated behind closed doors through a private settlement designed by (and for the benefit of) for-profit interests, most notably the world’s dominant search engine Google.  As Professor Robert Darnton of Harvard University, who is leading an effort to create a national digital public library, noted in the Times piece, there is a fundamental disconnect between the goals of that corporation and the public interest that non-profit libraries serve: “‘There’s a conflict between the raison d’être of Google, which is to make money for its shareholders,’ he says, ‘and libraries whose goal is to make books available to readers.’”

These developments should serve as a call to action for U.S. policymakers to take the lead in maintaining the public-interest spirit that has animated America libraries for three centuries.  As we have long maintained, in order to fulfill the enormous promise that book digitization holds, the process must follow these principles:

-          Large scale book digitization efforts must recognize their public utility and foster competitive instead of exclusive markets.

-          Long-term benefits for consumers must be prioritized and promoted over isolated commercial interests.

-          It must be done in a way that respects authors’ rights and copyright

-          The conception of this promise must be developed in the open and grounded in sound public policy instead of through a private settlement that bypasses the responsibilities of our elected officials.

At OBA, we believe that a comprehensive digital public library will unlock our collective cultural knowledge for a larger audience than ever before possible.  And we believe equally as strongly that the court must reject the proposed Google Book Settlement that would grant Google a de facto monopoly over the digital scans of millions of books.  The vision of a national digital public library must be realized to serve the public interest, not private profits.

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The mass digitization of books promises to bring tremendous value to consumers, libraries, scholars, and students. The Open Book Alliance will work to advance and protect this promise. And, by...

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December 14, 2009
Notice begins

January 28, 2010
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January 28, 2010
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February 4, 2010
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February 11, 2010
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February 18, 2010
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March 31, 2011
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