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18.8.05

Googleberg

Other Articles:

Eric Leser, Les défenseurs de la liberté sur Internet s'en prennent à Google (Le Monde, August 19)

Frédérique Roussel, Google bute sur les droits d'auteur (Libération, August 17)

R. G., Bibliothèque universelle : Google recule (Le Figaro, August 15)

Adam M. Smith, Making books easier to find (Google Blog, August 11)
As you probably know, Google Library has drastically altered its procedures and plans for scanning all of the books in five major libraries of the United States and Great Britain (mentioned in my post yesterday). When Google announced their initial plans, there were complaints in Europe, entirely justified in my opinion, that the Library would be too heavily focused on anglophone literature. The government of France, much to my delight, quickly put together its own digitalization project, so I was not surprised to see that the leaders of that project had something to say about Google's step back from the brink this week. An article by Thomas Sotinel (Le président de la Bibliothèque nationale de France "salue la sagesse de Google", August 16) in Le Monde relays the crucial details (my translation):
Reacting to the announcement by Google that it was suspending the digital scanning of copyrighted books, the president of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Jean-Noël Jeanneney, hailed "the wisdom of Google, which took into account a certain number of criticisms, notably those coming from Europe." [...] In the face of mounting opposition from American publishers, the company in Mountain View (California) announced, on Friday, August 12, on its site that it was suspending, until November, the scanning of copyrighted books. It is asking publishers to compile a list of works that they do not want to see scanned. The Association of American Publishers, through its president, the former Democratic Congresswoman from Colorado, Pat Schroeder, has already rejected the offer.

This delay does not solve the problems caused by the Google project. "There are also problems in how works are chosen, in making up bodies of literature," M. Jeanneney remarked by telephone. "When you look up Victor Hugo in the Beta version of Google Print (the premilinary version already online), you find only one title in French." The president of the BNF sees in the pause announced by Google a sign of the "collective efficacy" of the Europeans, who are working on an alternative project to make a universal virtual library, which has received the support of heads of state and the European Commission in Brussels, after the Journées européennes de la culture, in May. For M. Jeanneney, "now is the time to accelerate our pace and avoid bureaucratic snags, especially in Brussels, to make it clear that this is a European undertaking and not just France getting its underwear in a bunch [qui se dresse sur ses ergots]."
Although I have seen the unflattering words projet pharaonique (an adjective that combines the quixotic qualities of Google's project with a sense of self-aggrandizement that I myself do not see in it) attached to Google's plan in more than one French daily, there is also widespread admiration for the idea of Google Library, if not the anglocentric realization. (Frédérique Roussel, writing in Libération, had the most beautiful phrase when he called Google Library "this beautiful idea of a digital Babel, with a Borgesian flavor." Jorge Luis Borges, who wrote The Library of Babel, would probably have loved this idea.) If Google wants my two cents (and, hey, they should also buy out Ionarts and hire us as cultural correspondents while they are at it), they should make an official alliance with the European project right now, which would give them plenty of books to scan that are all without legal problems attached. The publishing houses can decide one by one if they want their books to be part of the digital revolution. Those that decide to abstain will probably regret it.

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