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The European Union has promised a rapid reaction to the threat posed to Europe's cultural heritage by Google Books, deploying the twin weapons of a "stakeholder dialogue" and an impact assessment.

The move follows Brussels' decision to deploy 12 million pages of European documents online, including the classic 1953 Report on the Activities of the Community - in French.

Google has moved forward with its effort to scan everything it can lay its hands on, largely because of the lack of a pre-existing legal framework.

Yesterday European Commissioners Viviane Reding and Charlie McCreevy issued a "communication" aimed at tackling "the important cultural and legal challenges of mass-scale digitisation and dissemination of books, in particular of European library collections".

They endorsed the idea of digital libraries, and outlined actions to facilitate the mass-scale digitisation and dissemination of European library collections. These include finding a "simple and cost efficient rights clearance systems covering digitisation and online dissemination" to allow the digitisation of libraries' collections. "Stakeholder dialogues" will address issues of copyright, and digital dissemination.

While the European Union has expressed grave reservations about some of Google's activities, it is in general in favour of getting Europe's cultural heritage online. It is also aware that the pace of Google Books' development in the US could leave chunks of "European Heritage" in US libraries available to Americans, but not to the citizens of Old Europe.

At the same time, it said Europe had to find a solution to the problem of "orphan works", and to address ways in which people with disabilities can access any digital library. This will be addressed, initially, via a stakeholder forum and an impact assessment.

The communication goes on to tackle the issue of social media and user created content. It would, of course, be a tragedy if the last few years' worth of blogs, tweets and dancing cats were to be lost to posterity. But the Commission's focus for now is ensuring copyrighted works are not (overly) abused by amateurs.

So the commission pledges to "further consult on solutions for easier, more affordable and user-friendly rights clearance for amateur users". ®

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