Digitisation of published works

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The EU has been busy scanning books and documents to improve citizens' access to culture and history, but its efforts have been overshadowed by Google's commercial push to digitise Europe's book heritage.

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Overview

In autumn 2008, the EU launched its own Internet library, 'Europeana', giving access to hundreds of thousands of books, many of which are rare or out-of-print altogether (EurActiv 21/11/08). Paintings, music, maps, manuscripts and newspapers were also put online. 

The portal, which hosts some two million 'digitised objects' from all 27 member states contributed by around 1,000 cultural institutions, initially collapsed amid massive interest and millions of hits, but it has functioned normally since December 2008. 

Moreover on 16 October 2009, the European Commission launched another digital library, the 'EU Bookshop' (EurActiv 20/10/09). 

The new website hosts an electronic library containing 12 million scanned pages from over 110,000 historical EU publications. 

The site, which users can access for free, features all publications edited by the EU's Publications Office on behalf of the European institutions, agencies and other associated bodies since 1952.   

Digitisation projects are being pursued by the private sector too. For example, Google Book Search allows users to view books or extracts of millions of books online after having conducted a keyword-based search. Seven million titles were covered by the service as of April 2009, and the database is expected to continue to grow as time goes by. 

Books digitised by the service include titles available in the public domain, copyrighted material reproduced with the permission of the rights holder, and out-of-print works. 

Rights holders who do not want their works included in the project must contact Google themselves to opt-out of it, while Google itself employs a variety of security measures to protect copyrighted material, primarily by limiting the number of viewable pages. 

In a deal struck with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers in October 2008, Google agreed to pay $125 million to create a Book Rights Registry, where authors and publishers can register works and be compensated by institutional subscriptions or book sales. 

The US Justice Department is now looking into this settlement. Last May, EU countries asked the European Commission to investigate the economic implications of Google Books amid fears that it will harm the European publishing industry. 

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