Industry federations and the European Commission heralded the agreement signed yesterday between publishers, libraries, collecting societies and authors as groundbreaking as it would unleash countless books for consumption online.
"I am not aware of any Memorandum of Understanding of its kind," Angela Mills Wade, the Executive Director of the European Publishers Council told EurActiv.
Previously books have been kept offline because collecting societies, organisations that distribute royalties to authors, were not able to obtain a mandate from publishers and authors who own the rights.
The new pan European deal encourages libraries and collecting societies to seek digital licensing agreements with the rightsholders of books that are no longer being printed or sold.
"While publishers are bringing more books back into commerce through e-book and print on demand, many titles still remain in the collections and archives of Europe's libraries," read a statement from Michel Barnier, the EU Commissioner for the Internal Market.
Digitisation has proven a valuable asset for several libraries across Europe whose collections have become available online and can now be discovered by tens of thousands of readers.
More libraries are keen to put their collections online as the process has become less burdensome with the help of online databases which help identify the rightsholders of books.
The ARROW project, which many libraries use to trace books' rightsholders, has been recognised by the signatories of the agreement as indispensable for mass digitisation.
Whilst it could take 1,000 years for one person to clear the rights of just 500,000 books manually, that's 4 hours per book, ARROW can reduce this to less than 5 minutes per title, according to a study by The British Library.
Though industry experts agree that it is difficult to put a number to the amount of books that will be digitised under the agreement, currently there are many projects across the bloc to put near millions of books online.
In Germany, libraries have sought an agreement to digitise books that predate 1965, while in France, the national library signed a deal in May this year to have more than half a million books digitised every year.
The agreement does not include Orphan works whose rightsholders are unknown. The European Commission is expected to come up with a solution for these books before the end of this year.