Google (NSDQ: GOOG) will ask European book publishers’ permission before making their works available to U.S. users, in a bid to stay on the right side of EU states’ copyright law. Google confirmed to paidContent:UK in a statement that it will digitize either the full text or excerpts from “commercially available” books — but says “such books can only be displayed to U.S. users if expressly authorized by rights holders“
European publishers had been concerned that the inclusion of their works would diminish their ability to sell re-prints of books and online paid-for access. There are also fears that books would be available to read not just in the U.S. but across the world via proxy servers and about the copying of material. Germany told a U.S. court last week the move would amount to the creation of a “new copyright regime” with a “hint of an uncontrolled, authoritarian concentration of power.”
Google’s commitment came in a letter it wrote to 16 European publishing groups over the weekend, on the eve of a Monday meeting between European media commissioner Viviane Reding, the search company and the book publishers. In its statement to paidContent:UK, the company confirms that the move to ask EU publishers’ permission only relates to the $125 million settlement of a long-running class action suit from U.S. publishing groups — as part of the same plans Google wants to make substantially more EU titles available to U.S. readers.
The truce with U.S. publishers was finally signed last year and gives Google the rights to digitise and publish millions more books but it’s still to be finally decided upon by US District Court in a “fairness hearing” on October 7 and the U.S .Justice Department is leading a separate investigation. Google has separate agreements with 20,000 publishers across the world which offer their titles for digitization and click-to-buy previews.
Google is casting all this as a concession, but it would really only amount to obeying copyright law. The EU lacks the fair use law Google uses to digitize and display works in the US so it has no choice but to ask European publishers’ permission to display European out-of-print and orphan works in America. Furthermore, the letter does nothing to quell Germany’s central criticism that the very act of scanning and digitizing works without consent is illegal. Google has already worked through 10 million books, many of them European, and continues with ambitious plans to add many more.
In addition, FT.com reports that the Google Books rights registry, designed to redistribute ad revenue to publishing groups, will have two European members on its eight-strong board. Google says it’s “committed to ensuring international author and publisher representation on the board of the Book Rights Registry.”