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Google has shut down its five-year old effort to digitizes back issues of the world's newspapers.

On Thursday, The Boston Phoenix, one of the newspapers participating in Google's program, announced that the web giant had sent an email to it and other publishers saying it is no longer accepting, scanning, and indexing microfilm and other archival material from newspapers. Google confirmed the news with The Register.

Google told us that netizens can still search digitized newspapers at its News Archives search page, but said that it does not plan to add additional tools to the Google News Archives, and that it has indeed stopped scanning microfilm from publishers.

Though scanning started two years before, Google officially launched the service in 2008, and it has apparently scanned about 60 million newspaper pages. But according to The Phoenix, the company was slow to scan, and the project operated under a similar cloud to the one that hangs over its library-book scanning project. Yes, that would be the copyright issue.

"[The project] threaded a loophole for newspapers, who, in putting pre-internet archives online, generally would have had to sort out tricky rights issues with freelancers – but were thought to have escaped those obligations due to the method with which Google posted the archives," The Phoenix said. In an effort to work around the copyright issue, Google posted searchable images files of newspaper pages rather than converting them to digital text.

But The Phoenix speculates that Google may have ended the project because it simply wasn't worth the effort. "The process may have turned out to be harder than Google anticipated. Or it may have turned out that the resulting pages drew far fewer eyeballs than anyone expected."

In its email to publishers, Google said that in halting newspaper scanning, it plans to focus on other news-related projects such as Google One Pass, a recently introduced platform that lets publishers sell content from their own websites.

The Boston Phoenix said that Google will now provide its digital scans to participating newspapers for free, and this includes rights to use those scans on third-party sites. Google's original plan was to share ad revenue with publishers. "In essence, Google just scanned a huge chunk of the newspaper industry's valuable long-tail content, and then handed it to the publishers. (It's been a couple of rough years. We'll take it.)"

Officially, Google is still on a mission to "organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful". But at the moment, this information does not include newspaper archives. ®

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