Europe fights Google on digital books project

7 Sep 2009

A project by Google to scan and sell certain published works has been seen by certain copyright holders and publishers within the EU as giving the search engine giant too much power.

At a hearing facilitated by the European Commission, the group of copyright holders, publishers and authors were to make their case heard about alleged copyright violation on Google’s part.

According to the New York Times, one of the reasons for the EC hearing was the fact Google would in effect be monetising out-of-print books that are still under copyright.

“As we said, we listen carefully to all concerns of stakeholders around the globe and work hard to achieve the common goal of bringing back to life millions of lost books in a way that serves the interest of all,” Google said in an official statement.

The precedent against which the European Commission will set the decision is the recent settlement between Google and America’s Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers.

Last year, Google reached a settlement in a class action over copyright infringement in 2005 whereby Google agreed to pay US$125m to settle claims and set up a Book Rights Registry as a revenue stream for authors and publishers involved.

However, the EC may not be looking at a settlement in Europe as these publishing and authors groups feel it will give Google too much clout.

According to, Santiago de la Mora, Google’s Book Partnerships Director, said: “If you think that of all the books that have been published since the beginning of time, a very small percentage of books still remain in print.

“This does not mean however that the books that are out of print don’t have an audience and I think that conceptually every book has a reader …. with the internet, these books are coming back to life.”

Google Book Search has received support from some within the publishing world. Fergus Barrowman, a publisher for Victoria University Press, said: “I honestly don’t think New Zealand writers and publishers have a great deal to be afraid of.

“Having a book scanned for Google Book Search raises its global profile enormously, and the terms allow one to dictate how much of the text is visible.”

By Marie Boran

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years