The European Commission has announced plans to adapt copyright legislation in order to facilitate the digitisation of Europe's books.
The Commission held a number of workshops and meetings on Monday to discuss how to strike a balance between respecting copyright rules to ensure fair remuneration for authors, while making books quick and easy to access online.
The meetings were attended by cultural institutions, rights holders, IT companies and consumer organisations.
Discussions centred on developing a fair way to digitise books that are out of print, or those described as 'orphaned', which are still in copyright but whose ownership is unknown or disputed in some way.
The meetings also sought ways to remove the fragmentation of European copyright legislation across national borders.
"It is time for Europe to turn over a new e-leaf on digital books and copyright," read a joint statement by information society and media commissioner Viviane Reding and internal market and services commissioner Charlie McCreevy.
"Only some one per cent of the books in Europe's national libraries have been digitised so far, leaving an enormous task ahead of us but 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."
The European Union lags behind the US in coming up with a solution to the challenges of book digitisation. US authors and publishers signed a $125m (£75m) settlement with Google last year to receive 63 per cent of the online revenue generated by Google's Book Search project.
The settlement was in response to a class action lawsuit brought by US copyright holders against Google, claiming that the firm had violated their intellectual property. However, controversy continues to surround the deal, which still awaits validation by the US courts.
The fact that Google's move has been backed by many major publishers also means that the service could become such a large portal of human knowledge that it may breach the Sherman Antitrust Act. The US Department of Justice issued a formal notice in July that its anti-trust division is investigating the deal.
Meanwhile, privacy concerns have been raised because the deal allows Google to monitor individuals' reading habits. Google Book Search does not allow users to download copyright books, only to read them online.
Germany, for example, filed an injunction against the settlement because it believed that its country's authors could be affected.
Google used the Brussels hearing to explain why Europe's publishers should form a similar deal with the web giant as has been reached in the US.
"All of us, on both sides of the Atlantic, share the same crucial goal - to bring millions of lost books back to life," Daniel Clancy, Google engineering director, said in a blog post.
The major benefit of the agreement Google formed with US copyright holders, according to Clancy, is that it should expand access to out-of-print books.
"These works are not sold through bookstores or held on most library shelves, yet they represent an important repository of the world's knowledge and culture, " he wrote.
"The new registry should help reduce the number of in-copyright works whose owners cannot be identified or found because authors will have a concrete economic incentive to come forward, claim their works and earn the money."
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