EC debates Google books deal

online books

The Google books dispute has come to a head in Europe, with the issue being discussed by the European Commission today.

Google has been digitising out-of-copyright books as part of its book search project. This has raised the ire of publishers, but Google recently reached an agreement with publishers in the US following a class-action suit. The US deal would give publishers 63 per cent of any revenue Google earned from online books.

Now the issue has now crossed the Atlantic to Europe, and Google is looking to calm fears here, too.

According to a report in the Financial Times, Google has promised its eight-person registry board will feature at least two non-US members and said it will consult European publishers before including European books in the search tool.

"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. Such books can only be displayed to US users if expressly authorised by rights holders," the FT quoted a Google spokesperson as saying.

European fears

In a statement today, the EC noted the US settlement doesn't yet apply to European publishers, but commissioners Viviane Reding and Charlie McCreevy said they were looking for a "regulatory framework" to pave the way to a quick solution "similar to those made possible in the United Sates by the recent settlement."

"Europe is facing a very important cultural and economic challenge: Only some one per cent of the books in Europe's national libraries have been digitised so far, leaving an enormous task ahead of us, but also opening up new cultural and market opportunities," the commissioners said in a joint statement.

"A better understanding of the interests involved will help the Commission to define a truly European solution in the interest of European consumers," they added.

The pair admitted the project would need private-sector support - words that are likely to encourage Google. "It is therefore time to recognise that partnerships between public and private bodies can combine the potential of new technologies and private investments with the rich collections of public institutions built up over the centuries," the statement said.

That said, the pair of commissioners added that "digitisation of copyrighted works must fully respect copyright rules and fairly reward authors."

Click here to read more on Google's copyright and privacy challenges.