Commission brokers agreement for mass digitisation

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Books that have been gathering dust on library bookshelves can now be transformed into eBooks, according  to a pan European agreement signed by libraries, publishers and rightsholders yesterday (20 September). 

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.

Claire Davenport

Commenting on the MoU, Michael Mabe from the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers said, “For the book and journal sector, as well as for the library sector, the MoU is a milestone in co-operation: it achieves a fine balance of protecting the economically useful life of an in-copyright work, without insisting that access be unduly retarded in all cases for the full term of copyright.”

“As an organisation at the forefront of collective rights management in the print and publishing sector across the world, we welcome this initiative,” said IFRRO CEO, Olav Stokkmo.  “The MoU has taken a pragmatic and realistic view of how to make available Out of Commerce Works and has not been shy of addressing the real issues," Stokkmo continued.

The definition of out of commerce books is when a work is no longer commercially available in any form of shop, regardless of the existence of copies in libraries, charity shops, antique book shops or among the public.

A study conducted for the European Commission estimated the Europe's libraries have a total catalogue of books of between 59-95 million titles. The Google Book Search project has estimated the total number of individual titles in existence at 130m. The Commission study also estimated that cost of digitising these books would run from €4.79bn and €11.76bn.

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