Tuesday, March 21, 2006

European Digital Library

The European Commissions’ plan to promote digital access to Europe’s heritage is rapidly taking shape. At least six million books, documents and other cultural works will be made available to anyone with a Web connection through the European Digital Library over the next five years. In order to boost European digitisation efforts, the Commission will co-fund the creation of a Europe-wide network of digitisation centres. The Commission will also address, in a series of policy documents, the issue of the appropriate framework for intellectual property rights protection in the context of digital libraries.

Yesterday the Commission published an overview of the results of a major online consultation on the digital libraries initiative which had been launched on 30 September 2005. The 225 replies came from libraries, archives and museums (46%), publishers and right holders (19%) and universities/academics (14%). The replies generally welcome the initiative and see it as an opportunity for making Europe’s cultural heritage more accessible and usable on the Internet. They also show that opinions are divided on copyright issues, in particular between cultural institutions and right holders.

“Information technologies can enable you to tap into Europe’s collective memory with a click of your mouse”, Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding explained. “The European Commission will help to turn this into reality by co-funding centres of competence for digitisation and providing a truly European framework for protecting, accessing and using intellectual property rights in digital libraries. Member States will have to do their bit by providing the basic means for digitisation”.

This action is partly inspired by the Google action Google in print. Instead of leaving it to Google to scan the books, a Europe-wide network has been set up to scan six million books. And it will not be books only, but in the plan also television archives will be archived. Two million books, films, photographs, manuscripts, and other cultural works will be accessible through the European Digital Library by 2008. This figure will grow to at least six million by 2010, but is expected to be much higher as, by then, potentially every library, archive and museum in Europe will be able to link its digital content to the European Digital Library.

Today Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding named a high level Expert Group of 20 members. They come from all disciplines: libraries, publishers, movie archives. And surprise, surprise: Mr Nikesh Arora, Vice President of European Operations, Google UK Ltd. Viviane Reding must have thought that she better could invite Google and educate them about copyright rules than set them up against this massive project.

The High Level Group on the European Digital Library will meet for the first time on 27 March 2006 and will be chaired by Commissioner Reding. The group will address issues such as public-private collaboration for digitisation and copyrights.

The Commission intends to present a proposal for a Recommendation by mid-2006 to tackle together with Member States and with the European Parliament barriers to digitisation and online accessibility. Later this year, the Commission will also unveil its strategy for digital libraries based on scientific and scholarly information. Before the end of the year, a Commission Communication on “Content Online” will address broader issues such as intellectual property rights management in the digital age.


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