As Google (NSDQ: GOOG) faces international scrutiny and legal hearings over its plans to digitise and publish millions of out-of-print books online for free, UK ebook publisher Interead has partnered with it to add more than one million “public domain” books to its Coolerbooks.com site and Cool-er e-reader, making it the first book publisher outside the U.S. to sign up with the search giant. Critics including the German government have warned that Google’s Books project is unfair and potentially illegal under EU law — but Interead is undeterred and now offers the works for free online using the Google Books API. Coolerbooks isn’t selling the Google books, so its claim to be the “largest e-book store in the world” is somewhat misleading, but it may well have more available to download than anyone else right now. Release.
Interead is using the free, out-of-copyright books — all the usual classics are there — to drive sales of its e-reader, which retails at $149 (£153), and newly released e-books that range from £4 to £12 and are available in 19 formats. This is welcome marketing for the UK books industry, which wants to raise awareness and interest in mobile reading in a country where Amazon’s Kindle is yet to launch and Sony’s Reader has yet to take off as a mainstream product.
Meanwhile, the Google Books project may have scanned and indexed 10 million books, but it’s mired in uncertainty and still needs court approval for a $150 million (£92.3 million) settlement with U.S. publishers last year. European media commissioner Viviane Reding this week gave her full backing to Google’s plans and launched a quest to change the EU’s copyright laws to allow out-of-copyright and orphan works to be digitised. That sentiment was backed by the UK government’s Digital Britain policy white paper, which proposed allowing collecting societies to sell orphan works.
There’s no immediate legal problem with UK publishers signing deals to give out Google Books content — these works are freely available online already across the globe. But European critics who fear Google’s dominance in this area will only be further spooked by the company signing commercial third-party deals without authors’ or publishers’ consent.