September 7, 2009

Google Removing European Titles From Library

Google announced on Monday that it would remove all European books currently on the market from a U.S. agreement to digitize and sell online books that are out of print in the United States.

This announcement comes after controversy over plans that the opponents say represents a "big landgrab" of the world's stock of an estimated six million out-of-print and out-of-copyright books.

A Google spokeswoman said that the new position means books that are no longer available to U.S. consumers but are still on sale in Europe will not be included in its database.  She said that the numbers were "hard to assess."

Google will have to negotiate agreements with European publishers and authors for catalogues and titles in the category concerned.

"The parties to the settlement agreement have sent a letter to several national publisher associations in Europe to clarify that 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 authorized 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.

According to Philip Jones, The Bookseller's managing editor, previously, rights holders within a patchwork of different copyright law frameworks across national borders were considered to have "opted in by doing nothing."

He said that Google had digitized about seven million books so far, which "people have described as a big landgrab."  He added, "Publishers still want to see more clarity."

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."

Close to 70 percent of all published titles are said to have fallen out of print while remaining under copyright protection.

In Google's letter, it also said it will bring a European publisher and a European author on to the board of a body created to administer the U.S. legal settlement.

Google reached an agreement in October last year with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers to a copyright infringement suit they filed against the Internet powerhouse in 2005.

Google agreed to pay $125 million in the settlement, which will resolve outstanding claims and establish an independent "Book Rights Registry."

That body will establish revenue from sales and advertising to authors and publishers that agree to digitize their books.

Last week, Germany said that it opposed the U.S. legal settlement even though the EU broadly agrees with the idea of dusting down out-of-print and so-called "orphaned" books for future generations.

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

Last month, Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo joined together to oppose the U.S. settlement.  Amazon is a major player in the electronic book market with its popular e-reader Kindle.

Google still needs the approval of a U.S. District Court judge, who is holding a "fairness hearing" on the Google deal in New York on October 7th.  Google is also facing anti-trust scrutiny from the U.S. Justice Department, a court review and privacy concerns.


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