In an effort to ease EU copyright concerns, Internet giant Google said it will remove all European books currently on the market from a US agreement to digitize the world's books and create a vast online library.
Google's ambitious book-scanning project has sparked a huge debate across the world
Google's change of position comes as hearings got under way on Monday at the European Commission in Brussels to asses how a settlement between the government and US publishers will affect the EU.
The California-based company struck a deal with authors and publishers in the US regarding its Book Search program earlier this year, allowing it digitize books and post them on the Internet.
Under the settlement, Google agreed to pay $125 million (87 million euros) to resolve outstanding claims and establish an independent "Book Rights Registry," which will provide revenue from sales and advertising to authors and publishers who agree to digitize their books.
Google has scanned millions of works, including German ones
But the deal has been criticized in the US and Europe. Germany has led the criticism, saying the settlement infringes on copyright and privacy laws and flouts German laws protecting German authors and publishers with respect to digital copying, publishing and the dissemination of their works.
In a legal brief filed with the US court that has to approve Google's deal with publishers and authors, Germany complained that the plan would give the company too much control over out-of-print books.
"A step in the right direction"
In response, Google spokesman Bill Echikson said Monday that Google would do more to check that English-language editions of books originally published in a European language weren't wrongly listed as out-of-print in the United States.
He also said the company would appoint two European representatives to a board administering its digital books settlement.
In a letter to several publisher associations in Europe, Google also promised to consult European publishers before cataloguing some European works in its digital library.
"It's a step in the right direction, (but) it's not enough for our members to sleep peacefully," Jessica Sanger of the German booksellers association told the AFP news agency.
Plenty of opposition
Google also faces several other challenges to its ambitious plans to scan and publish millions of books online.
Online giants Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo have joined an alliance opposing the legal settlement. They say the program would create a "cartel" of thousands of books publishers and breaches US copyright law.
Both the American Library Association and Association of Research Libraries have asked for court oversight regarding possible fees Google would be able to charge for access to books. And the US Justice Department in June opened an antitrust investigation of the settlement.
Google: online books make Web democratic
Google has defended its plans as helping to democratize the Web
But on Monday, Google also defended its online books program, saying it made finding information on the Internet more democratic.
"We have seen a democratization of access to online information," Dan Clancy, architect of the Google program, told the European Commission. "You can discover information which you did not know was there.
"It is important that these (out-of-print) books are not left behind," he said. "Google's interest was in helping people to find the books."
Editor: Sean Sinico