Sunday

21st Jan 2018

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 for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  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."

German coalition deal aims for 'Macron-lite' EU renewal

Merkel and Schulz clear the first hurdle of coalition talks, but the SPD's full membership backing is still needed. The likely coalition parties express support for Macron's eurozone reform ideas, but remain cautious.

Uber is a transport service, EU court rules

Ruling means that national governments have the right to demand that Uber drivers request the same permits and authorisations required of taxi drivers.

News in Brief

  1. Germany confirms attendance at air quality summit
  2. Nearly half of 'fixed' Dieselgate cars show problems
  3. YouTube, Twitter, Facebook up hate speech deletion
  4. UK mulls bridge to France
  5. German far-right float anti-asylum bill
  6. EU Parliament to investigate glyphosate-decision process
  7. 'Mutagenesis' falls outside EU's GMO rules, says EU top lawyer
  8. Decision on Polish MEP's Nazi-era slur postponed

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  2. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other EU Border Regions to Work Together to Generate Growth
  4. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  5. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  6. Dialogue PlatformRoundtable on "Political Islam, Civil Islam and The West" 31 January
  7. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  8. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  9. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society
  10. ACCAWelcomes the Start of the New Bulgarian Presidency
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li and President Tusk Stress Importance of Ties at ASEM Summit
  12. EU2017EEVAT on Electronic Commerce: New Rules Adopted

Latest News

  1. Middle East, Messi and missing MEPs on the agenda This WEEK
  2. Instagram and Google Plus join EU anti-hate speech drive
  3. EU wants 'entrepreneurship' in education systems
  4. UK loses EU satellite centre to Spain
  5. Pay into EU budget for market access, Macron tells May
  6. Ethiopian regime to get EU migrants' names
  7. EU to lend Greece up to €7bn more next week
  8. Nato prepares to take in Macedonia

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressChair of EU Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism Condemns Wave of Attacks
  2. Counter BalanceA New Study Challenges the Infrastructure Mega Corridors Agenda
  3. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  4. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% Plastics Recycling Rate Attainable by 2025 New Study Shows
  5. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  6. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  7. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  8. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  10. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  12. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap