Groups representing authors in Europe are reacting with skepticism to Google's plan to digitize books, even as the company launched its Google Print Web sites in eight European countries this week.
Google Print was launched last year, offering Web sites where users can enter search terms and find results from within the text of books. It wasn't until the introduction of the Google Library Program component of Google Print late last year that some authors around the globe began to be alarmed. They fear that Google is violating copyright laws by scanning their books without their permission. In Europe, following the launch of Google Library, a competing initiative focused on European writings was proposed by leaders of some European nations.
To create the books database, Google is using two programs: the Google Publisher Program and the Google Library Program. Publishers that join the publisher program send Google a list of books they'd like included in the Google Print program and either the publisher or Google scans the entire book. The library program involves partnering with libraries to scan all or a portion of their books. When Web users search Google Print, the page of the book the search term appears on is displayed. Users can't save or print from the site. Books that are no longer protected by copyright are viewable in their entirety.
In August, Google launched its publisher program in France, Italy, Germany, Holland and Spain, but in some countries the concept hasn't been very popular.
"Most U.K. publishers have not done deals with Google," said Mark Le Fanu, general secretary of the Society of Authors, a U.K. organization that supports writers by advising them on contracts and other matters. Google's program has not officially been launched yet in the U.K., but some publishers have had the opportunity to sign up, according to Le Fanu.
Publishers in the U.K. are approaching the program cautiously as they consider its copyright implications, he said. Le Fanu believes most nonacademic publishers would be required to ask permission of each published author before offering the books to Google, in accordance with the contract between publisher and author.
Publishers that have signed up for the program in Europe may mostly be academic publishers, said Le Fanu. "Academic publishers are enthusiastic of the initiative because they see it as promoting sales of books that don't get into bookshops," he said. Many contracts between author and academic publisher include digital reproductions, so those publishers may not require additional approval from authors, he said.
Some authors' groups in Europe are as dismayed by the Google Print program as their counterparts in the U.S. In late September, The Authors Guild and three writers filed a suit against Google in the U.S. regarding Google Print, charging massive copyright infringement.
European authors aren't yet threatening to sue, but some aren't happy, said Maureen Duffy, who until last week was president of the European Writer's Congress, a federation of 55 writers' organizations across Europe. "We wish Google had consulted us first," she said. "It's an interesting technological development that could make our work more accessible, but tied up with that is that we'd want to have some say in the conditions in which it was protected." Duffy is still involved with the congress. A new president hasn't been named yet.
This week, Google launched Web sites in France, Italy, Germany, Holland, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and Spain allowing residents there to search Google Print in their native languages. A Google spokesperson was not available to comment on the European program.
Duffy presumes that Google has already begun scanning the work of European authors. That could be happening as part of the Google Library Program.
Some of Google's library partners, such as the New York Public Libraries and the Bodleian Library at Oxford University in England, specify that only public-domain books, or books whose copyright has expired, will be scanned. Others, such as the University of Michigan Library, say that snippets of copyrighted works will be displayed.
Google allows authors to opt out of the program. But "that turns copyright law on its head," according to Le Fanu. Typically, it is the responsibility of the user of copyrighted material to gain approval to use the material.
Also, it's apparently not obvious to authors, at least in Europe, that they can opt out, because Duffy was unaware of a method to do so. "We've not been offered to decline yet," she said.
An author herself, Duffy thinks that there is potential in the Google Print program but feels the authors should be involved. "It's not something we want to be Luddites about, but we do want a proper protective environment and proper consultation, and preferably some money," she said.