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Google book scan plan raises European hackles

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Google's ongoing effort to create a vast digital library is set to come under fire at the EU from countries who fear it will violate copyright and stymie competition.

German diplomats plan to raise the issues in Brussels today, EUobserver reports, with support from France, Austria and the Netherlands.

Google controversially began scanning and indexing books in the US in 2004, without copyright approval. In October last year it cut a deal with American authors and publishers to pay them a slice of the profits it makes matching text advertising to book searches. US authors who do not want their work scanned and published online have until September to opt out.

That deal is now the subject of a Department of Justice investigation on antitrust grounds, because it grants Google exclusive rights to republish "orphan" (where the rights holder cannot be traced) books online. It will also allow Google to resell rights to other digital libraries.

Both intellectual and market power concerns are now exercising politicans and officials on this side of the Atlantic, who hope their action today will put Google's book project on the agenda of regulators at the European Commission.

The German government also plans to offer its opinion to a New York court which is set to consider Google's US books deal. "It is not about participating as a party in the legal dispute but making the court aware of certain legal aspects," the country's justice minister said.

An unnamed EU diplomat said Google's plans "are not entirely in the interests of European authors" and that Google would have to "ask European copyright holders for permission first [before scanning their work]".

For its part, Google maintains its line on copyright issues that it merely wants to make knowledge more widely available. ®

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