A report, drafted by German MEP Helga Trüpel (Greens/EFA) and adopted unanimously by the European Parliament's culture committee, calls on member states to provide more books, maps, film clips and photographs for the portal, while at the same time warning that intellectual property rights must be respected.
National contributions 'uneven'
MEPs "seriously regret" member states' "very uneven" contributions to Europeana, which aims to make Europe's cultural and scientific heritage available to all free-of-charge on the Web but at present only hosts 5% of all digital books.
Of these, almost half come from France (47%), with 16% coming from Germany and 8% from the UK and the Netherlands respectively.
Legal restrictions prevent the portal from hosting out-of-print books (90% of the content of national libraries) or 'orphan works' whose authors cannot be identified (10-20% of national collections).
Governments and cultural institutions should work together to fill up the site, MEPs said, urging member states "not to restrict availability to the territory of their country" and to put more audio and digital material online, "paying special attention" to works that deteriorate easily.
The report "urges the [European] Commission and member states to take all necessary steps to avoid a knowledge gap between Europe and non-EU countries, particularly the USA, stressing the importance of making Europeana "one of the main reference points for education and research purposes".
Protecting intellectual property rights
Europeana should "respect intellectual property rights, especially authors' and performers' rights," states the report, suggesting that extended collective licensing could be one way of giving users access to copyrighted material.
MEPs called for the portal to be promoted more effectively among the public at large, announcing their intention to organise a 'Join Europeana' funding and advertising campaign.
Meanwhile, Trüpel warned that Europeana's success would ultimately depend on finance. "The Commission and member states must work together to make funding available," she said.
Europeana faces commercial competition in the form of US giant Google's plans to create a Book Rights Registry, where authors and publishers can register works and be compensated by institutional subscriptions or book sales.
The European Parliament report warns that the dissemination of knowledge on the Internet should not be left to private commercial firms.
'Counterbalance' to Google Books
"To avoid putting itself at a competitive disadvantage, the EU must be able to hold its own against other digitisation projects and offer a tangible counterbalance to Google Books," Trüpelsaid.
Indeed, the European Commission is adamant that the Google registry will not serve as a blueprint for a European equivalent, and only works from the US, UK, Australia and Canada will be included in Google's project at present (EurActiv 16/11/09).
"Europeana might never be as rich as Google Books, because it will not be financed through advertisements," Trüpel warned.
"But it is very important for us to show that there is another possibility: to do it with public funding. If we want to defend our European social model and go for cultural diversity, we need Europeana," she added.
Book publishing contributes €24.5bn to the EU economy in a retail market worth €40bn, the Federation of European Publishers estimates.
Last year, Luxembourg Commissioner Viviane Reding, responsible at the time for information society and media, hinted that work on a European registry was underway. She also encouraged collaboration between Google, national libraries and Europeana to ensure that no single search engine had a monopoly on access to cultural works.
MEPs yesterday endorsed "the Commission's intention to establish a simple and cost-efficient rights clearance system". They also called on the EU executive to propose legislation on the digitisation, preservation and dissemination of orphan works, and develop a single European database.
Meanwhile, a network of databases for out-of-print and orphan works called ARROW is in the project phase, according to the Federation of European Publishers (FEP).
"ARROW would facilitate rights clearance as the database would allow libraries – and even Google – to see the copyright status of a work," the FEP spokesperson added.
Trüpel's report will be voted upon in plenary in April.