Thursday

27th Jul 2017

Merkel joins EU chorus against Google Books

  • An old analogue card catalogue at the University of Ghent, made redundant by technology (Photo: Leigh Phillips)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has added her voice to a small but growing number of people who are increasingly alarmed about internet search giant Google's scheme to digitise millions of books from the globe's leading libraries.

No curmudgeonly luddite, the leader of the European Union's largest economy made the comments via her weekly podcast on Saturday (10 October) ahead of this week's opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

"The German government has a clear position: copyrights have to be protected on the internet," she said, warning of the "considerable dangers" to copyright from the digital world.

However, she did not say she was opposed to any book digitalisation project tout court. The problem was the way the US search engine firm was going about it.

"We reject the scanning in of books without any copyright protection - like Google is doing. The government places a lot of weight on this position on copyrights to protect writers in Germany."

"It's clear to the German government that intellectual property rights must find their place on the internet," she continued. "For that reason we refuse to permit simple scanning of books without full protection of intellectual property rights."

Ms Merkel made her comments on the fifth anniversary of Google's book project. In 2004, the firm launched its scheme at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest trade fair for books.

Google is in the process of digitally scanning 10s of millions of books from some of the most important libraries in Europe, the United States, and Japan, including the Bodleian Library in Oxford, the Harvard University Library and the Boekentoren at the University of Ghent.

The ultimate aim, according to Google, is to create the largest online corpus of human knowledge and to make it freely available, extending the reach of these great libraries to anyone who has access to the internet, and not simply those who study at such prestigious institutions.

It is believed that some 10 million books have been scanned in the project that Google widely publicises, but at the same time the details of whose process it keeps highly guarded.

Almost immediately after the launch, authors and publishers in the US sued Google, concerned at the thought of the book trade going the way of the music industry.

By putting untold numbers of out-of-print books online for free, publishers worry that the scheme could put them out of business.

In an out-of-court settlement with the Authors Guild of America and the Association of American Publishers (AAP), Google is to pay $125 million (€89 million) to create a book rights registry in which authors and publishers register their publications and receive a lump sum of $5 to $60 per work and then 63 percent of the revenues - currently mostly coming from advertising and licensing to institutions and consumers - resulting from the digitisation scheme.

Some in European quarters have criticised the US authors' groups for coming to an agreement that is to their benefit but does not take into account EU rights holders.

European information society commissioner Vivianne Reding, while welcoming the scheme, has proposed the creation of a European Book Registry. Brussels sees book digitisation as one of the key online fields of battle over the next few years.

German publishing houses have criticised the US legal settlement and French authors and publishers groups are suing Google between €15 million and €100,000 for each day it "violates copyright" in the process of digitisation.

Wisdom as 'content'

Some European librarians, authors and political leaders are worried about the service for other reasons, chief among them is the presumed dominance of anglophone works that an American firm would inevitably establish.

Robert Darnton, an American cultural historian and a pioneer of the history of the book, calls the project "an instrument for privatising knowledge that belongs in the public sphere," and is worried that the work of centuries is viewed by Google simply as content to which advertising can be attached and mined for profit.

He also worries that the settlement could eventually turn Google into the monopoly publisher of digital books.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin, apparently sensing the growing alarm, argued in an opinion piece in the New York Times on Friday (9 October) that the scheme is making books long lost to all but a handful of scholars available to the masses.

"The vast majority of books ever written are not accessible to anyone except the most tenacious researchers at premier academic libraries," he wrote. "Books written after 1923 quickly disappear into a literary black hole. With rare exceptions, one can buy them only for the small number of years they are in print. After that, they are found only in a vanishing number of libraries and used book stores."

Google responded to Ms Merkel's comments by denying there was any threat to copyright in Europe as a result of the scheme.

"Google Books complies with all copyright requirements in Germany. Showing snippets of books is compliant with German copyright law. In Germany like everywhere else, we do not show even a full page of an in-copyright book without the copyright holder's explicit permission," the company said in a statement.

"We also have a partnership with the Bavarian State library, where we're only scanning public domain books. The scope of our U.S. settlement is limited to the US and comes under U.S law and only U.S. readers will benefit."

Greece looking at bond market return

Greece could issue 3-year bonds as early as this week, for the first time in three years, amid mixed signs from its creditors and rating agencies.

Greece to get €7.7bn loan next week

The ESM, the eurozone emergency fund, agreed on Friday to unblock a new tranche of aid as part of the bailout programme agreed upon in 2015.

News in Brief

  1. Werner Hoyer re-appointed as EU investment bank chief
  2. Spanish PM denies knowledge of party corruption
  3. France 'routinely' abuses migrants, says NGO
  4. Swedish government rocked by data scandal
  5. Member states relocate 3,000 migrants in June
  6. Top EU jurist says Malta's finch-trapping against EU law
  7. EU judges rule to keep Hamas funds frozen
  8. EU court rejects passenger data deal with Canada

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  3. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  4. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  5. ECPAFood waste in the field can double without crop protection. #WithOrWithout #pesticides
  6. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  7. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  8. Martens CentreWeeding out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  9. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  10. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Episode 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  11. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  12. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way

Latest News

  1. Insults fly after EU ultimatum to Poland
  2. UK requests EU migration study, 13 months after Brexit vote
  3. EU defends airline data-sharing after court ruling
  4. Stop blaming Trump for Poland’s democratic crisis
  5. EU-US scrap on Russia sanctions gets worse
  6. Czechs, Hungarians, and Poles have one month to start taking migrants
  7. EU Commission sets red lines for Poland on Article 7
  8. Court told to 'dismiss' case against EU migrant quotas

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  2. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School
  3. EPSUEP Support for Corporate Tax Transparency Principle Unlikely to Pass Reality Check
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Improves the External Investment Plan but Significant Challenges Ahead
  5. EU2017EEPM Ratas: EU Is Not Only an Idea for the 500mn People in the Bloc, It Is Their Daily Reality
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCloser Energy Co-Operation Keeps Nordic Region on Top in Green Energy
  7. ILGA-EuropeGermany Finally Says Ja - Bundestag Votes for Marriage Equality!
  8. EPSUJapanese and European Public Sector Unions Slam JEFTA
  9. World VisionEU, Young Leaders and Civil Society Join Forces to End Violence Against Girls
  10. UNICEFNarrowing the Gaps: The Power of Investing in the Health of the Poorest Children
  11. EU2017EEEstonia to Surprise Europe With Unique Cultural Programme
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Talks Should Insist on Ending Reprisals Vs. Critical Voices