Viviane Reding, European Union Commissioner for Information Society and Media, and Charlie McCreevy, Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services, have made a joint statement setting out some of the issues relating to book digitisation in Europe.
The statement came ahead of a series of workshops and meetings this week considering book digitisation and the implications of the Google Book Settlement.
"Europe is facing a very important cultural and economic challenge," the statement says. "Only some 1% of the books in Europe's national libraries have been digitised so far, leaving an enormous task ahead of us, but also opening up new cultural and market opportunities. A better understanding of the interests involved will help the Commission to define a truly European solution in the interest of European consumers. We believe that such a European solution should breathe fresh life into this issue and could give every citizen with an internet connection access to millions of books that today lie hidden on dusty shelves. Our aim is to blow away stale stereotypes that hindered debate in the past and focus on finding the best approach that today's technology will allow us to take in the future, while giving a new boost to cultural creation in the digital age."
The statement continues: "It goes without saying that digitisation of copyrighted works must fully respect copyright rules and fairly reward authors, who could be the biggest winners from better access to a Europe-wide online audience. However, we also need to take a hard look at the copyright system we have today in Europe."
Responding to the statement Guild General Secretary, Bernie Corbett, said:
"Reding and McCreevy have not been bad commissioners from our point of view (though far from perfect) and I welcome this initiative. I don’t oppose the Google settlement, as it flows from a victory for the US Authors Guild and on the whole seems fair to writers of out-of-print books while also making these books accessible once more.
"There are some vociferous critics of the settlement, but they don’t seem to be suggesting an alternative. I agree there should be more than one such project, including a European one (in fact there is, it is called Europeana, but no one has heard of it).
"I like the idea of using this issue as a peg on which to hang a new attempt at a Europe-wide copyright regime. The last attempt at harmonisation was frankly a failure and has left us with a directive that simply reproduces all the different systems across Europe and permits each member state to pick and choose its own favourite bits.
"If it is possible to have a genuine new law for the digital age, the likelihood is that a European law would be better for UK writers than a UK-only law, which would be likely to lean more heavily to the US model, favouring corporations and consumer interests over creators."