1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Copyright concerns

June 2, 2009

German politicians are urging the EU to take strong action against Internet giant Google's plans to digitize millions of books, which they say could have damaging consequences for cultural and media policy in Europe.

A book being scanned
Google's ambitious plans to digitize millions of books has attracted considerable resistanceImage: AP

In an interview with German daily Handelsblatt on Tuesday, Germany's Culture Secretary Bernd Naumann said Google's vast online library project, Google Books, was a cause for concern in Europe.

"This move has an impact on cultural and media policy that we need to put on a European level," Neumann told the paper.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also told the paper that Google's controversial book-scanning program raised worrying questions about copyright infringements.

"Google's procedure is unacceptable," Steinmeier told the paper. “First scanning, then asking -- that doesn't work. I agree with our justice minister. We're thinking about how we as a government can support German authors in American courts.”

EU needs to "send clear political signal"

The comments reflect growing concern in Europe about Google's vaunted project to scan entire collections of major libraries and make them searchable on the net.

Critics in the publishing industry have slammed the search giant for not getting explicit permission from the copyright holders before scanning the texts.

Last week, Germany's Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries urged the European Union to take steps to protect European authors whose works are involved in the online book project.

A Google sign inside Google headquarters in Mountain View, California
Google's online library plans have raised tricky questions about copyright violationImage: AP

In a statement, Zypries said the EU needed to "send a clear political signal" by preventing works to be digitized in the US without the permission of European copyright holders.

The minister said Google's book-scanning plans weren't compatible with the fundamentals of European copyright law.

Zypries went on to say that Google's high-profile book project also threatened to overshadow other digitalization projects such as "Europeana," which is promoted by the EU Commission.

Unlike Google Books, Europeana only digitizes works once rights holders have agreed to their online publication.

Google Books remains controversial

Google's book-scanning project has been dodged by controversy. The company is currently embroiled in a dispute with US publishers and authors in a New York court.

The US justice department is also said to be examining antitrust implications of last year's settlement between Google and the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers (AAP).

Alleging copyright infringement, the Authors Guild and AAP filed a class action lawsuit against Google in 2005 over its Google Book search service.

In the settlement, Google agreed to establish an independent "Book Rights Registry," which will provide revenue from sales and advertising to authors and publishers who agree to digitize their books.

One of the biggest concerns of opponents of the settlement, however, are the millions of so-called "orphan" books -- out-of-print works whose copyright holder cannot be found.

Opponents of the settlement have argued that it gives Google an exclusive license to scan, sell and profit from "orphan" books.


Editor: Trinity Hartman