Europeana, Google book deal, Google publishing

Europeana Digital Library Not Ready for Primetime

November 25, 2008 10:00 AM
by Josh Katz
Europeana, the EU's own digital library set to challenge Google's dominance in the area, will not be available until mid-December after an early crash.

Europeana Gains Audience, Lacks Server Strength

The Europeana Web site, which crashed under the weight of its own popularity soon after its premier last week, will not be accessible again until mid-December.

In three different languages the European site ( currently reads, "We are doing our utmost to reopen Europeana in a more robust version as soon as possible."

Europeana—the European Union’s answer to Google’s growing online library—launched on Nov. 20 and swiftly crashed. The task for Europe is a daunting one: it seeks to have 10 million works available on the Internet by 2010.

Currently, Europeana offers two million digitized works in various languages, including multimedia like “books, artworks, manuscripts, maps, objects and films,” according to The Guardian. Internet users have free access to Dante’s “Divine Comedy” and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, for example.

Jill Cousins, the director of Europeana, says the Web site goes above and beyond portals like Google Book Search. “If you go onto Google, you don’t always know what you’re getting. … Here you do. The institutions have been here for hundreds of years and they know what they’re talking about and that’s what you’re getting out of it,” Reuters quoted her as saying.

France is by far the largest contributor to the archives, providing more than half of the content. Britain boasts 10 percent of the material, Spain offers 1.4 percent, and Germany supplied 1.4 percent, The New York Times reports.

“I find the figures extraordinary,” said Viviane Reding, the European commissioner in charge of the project. “France has half the content—the collapse of the Berlin Wall is illustrated with a French TV documentary.”

The site brings together the cultural and historical resources of the 27 EU states from more than 1,000 different institutions. The material is free to users because it includes only works in the public domain to avoid the legal disputes that Google has encountered. But the European Commission said it is attempting to provide copyright material in the future.

According to The Guardian, “The site will reopen the question of whether governments should give more funding to ambitious plans to put books online.”

To meet the 10 million mark by 2010, the EU will have to funnel about 350 million to 400 million euros into the project, the Times reports.

Although European countries created Europeana as an answer to Google’s dominance over digitized book libraries, Google announced its support for the enterprise. “Digitization projects like Europeana send a strong signal that authors, publishers, libraries and technology companies can work together to democratize access to the world’s collective knowledge,” said Santiago de la Mora, head of Google’s book partnerships in Europe.

Users seemed excited for the new venture as well: the site proved so popular that its Web servers couldn’t handle the 10 million hits an hour it had from the first day and shut down the morning of the 20th, The Guardian reports.

Background: Google’s deal with book publishers

On Nov. 18, N.Y. District Judge John Sprizzo granted Google preliminary approval for its settlement with book publishers. A hearing has been scheduled for June 11 to further deliberate matters. 

The preliminary approval order sends a highly positive initial message,” said Alexander Macgillivray, Google’s associate general counsel for products and intellectual property, according to Bloomberg. “This agreement promises to benefit readers and researchers, and enhance the ability of authors and publishers to distribute their content in digital form.”

Last month, Google Inc. said it would be able to expand its collection of published books online, thanks to a dispute it first settled with the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers (AAP) on Oct. 28. Google, the book publishers, and authors made a joint statement saying that the agreement “acknowledges the rights and interests of copyright owners, provides an efficient means for them to control how their intellectual property is accessed online and enables them to receive compensation for online access to their works,” reported U.K. paper The Daily Telegraph.

As long as the U.S. District Court finalizes the resolution with publishers—including Simon & Schuster, McGraw-Hill Cos., Pearson Education Inc. and Penguin Group, and John Wiley & Sons Inc.—Google will dispense payments totaling $125 million for the rights to make certain in- and out-of-copyright books available on the Internet, according to MarketWatch.

The publishing companies first sued Google in 2005, claiming that the Internet giant was breaking copyright law by scanning books and offering them online. Other companies, such as Microsoft, have also made books searchable online—although Microsoft has since halted the practice—but were careful to do so in a way that does not violate copyright restrictions. Google, however, has defended its book project by arguing that it allows Internet users to view only parts of in-copyright books online, and not the books in their entirety, MarketWatch reported.

Opinion & Analysis: The race to digitize the world

Anders Bylund of The Motley Fool investment blog doesn’t think Google is, or should be, afraid of the EU’s endeavor: “when the EU opens up Europeana, a massive digital library that pulls a wealth of information on European culture out of dusty old museums or private collections and into the digital world, it's like giving Google a helping hand. After all, Google likes to show us the way to important info that somebody else owns.”

Kevin Kelly wrote a piece for The New York Times Magazine about the issue back in 2006. He spoke of Google’s epic attempt to create a “universal library” that could offer “every book to every person.” The library would also include movies, TV shows, songs, essays and articles—in other words, it would run the gamut of human achievement. Copyright laws, however, have proved formidable roadblocks to such an effort. Kelly explains the brave new world of online content and how print content has evolved over time, up to the fight between Google and the book publishers. Kelly ends with this argument: “Search opens up creations. It promotes the civic nature of publishing. Having searchable works is good for culture.” Either way, he says, “In the clash between the conventions of the book and the protocols of the screen, the screen will prevail.”

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