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Google Begins Digitalization

By Kimberly A. Kicenuik, Crimson Staff Writer

The popular internet search engine Google formally began its controversial Print for Libraries Project this week, nearly 600 years after Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press.

The project, which was first announced last December, involves scanning the books of four universities—Harvard, Oxford, Stanford and the University of Michigan—and the New York Public Library in order to make the materials freely accessible online.

The massive archiving effort was launched earlier this spring in spite of strong criticism from American publishers and European library officials

The digitalization itself, which is expected to take several millions of dollars to complete, has stirred controversy far outside academia since its unveiling.

Two weeks ago, the Association of American University Presses (AAUP), a group of academic publishers, sent a letter to Google claiming that the search engine’s project involved a “systematic copyright infringement on a massive scale.”

The group, which represents 125 non-profit publishers of scholarly journals and academic books, said that it had signed onto Google Print for Publishers. This project would have permitted the publishers themselves to determine which books and periodicals could be digitized and made searchable online. Since this agreement, however, Google has also launched the Print for Libraries Project—a separate branch of the effort that copies universities’ books and materials without publishers’ explicit consents.

“This large-scale infringement has the potential for serious financial damage to the members of the AAUP,” read the organization’s letter, written by its executive director, Peter Givler.

“The more we talked about it with our lawyers, the more questions bubbled up,” he said. “And so far, Google hasn’t provided us with any good answers.”

The group asked for a response from Google by June 20 and also enclosed a list of 16 questions intended to clarify the project’s logistics and how the company plans to protect copyrights.

Despite the AAUP’s concerns, Google has already begun to scan copyrighted materials at Harvard, Michigan, and Stanford. Because these universities all operate publishing outfits represented by the group, Givler said in an interview last week that the publishers’ chances of suing Google are “extremely remote.”

Although Google is also in the midst of scanning books at the New York Public Library and the University of Oxford, both of these institutions are providing only materials in the “public domain”: works that are no longer protected by copyright laws.


Copyright concerns aren’t the only clouds casting a shadow over the print engine’s digitalization project. Since its unveiling in December, the plan has also garnered outcry in Europe for encouraging cultural imperialism.

Earlier this May, six European leaders jointly proposed forming a “European digital library” to counter the Google Print Project, with many other European nations likely to join the venture.

Heads of state in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland, and Hungary wrote in a formal appeal to the European Union that failing to digitalize is to jeopardize the “just place” of European heritage “in the future geography of knowledge.”

Jean-Noël Jeanneney, president of the French National Library, spearheaded the appeal to the E.U. Jeanneney, who oversees some 13 million books, presented a bleak vision of Google Print in a book he published in France last week entitled, “When Google Challenges Europe.”

“I think that this could lead to an imbalance to the benefit of a mainly Anglo-Saxon view of the world,” Jeanneney told The Associated Press. “I think this is danger.”

According to Jeanneney and other European leaders, the digitalization is bound to promulgate further the English language and its literatures, which already dominate cyberspace. Meanwhile, many works deemed sources of cultural inspiration in Europe will miss the “cut”—Google’s selection criteria—and thus the eyes and consideration of reading audiences, he said.

Jeanneney said he instead envisioned a European search engine “at the service of culture,” showcasing culturally significant works of literature rather than those targeted by the market-oriented selection process that he attributes to Google.

Jeanneney, however, also said that the possibility of bringing Google into the European project was being considered. Google representatives have so far complied with requests from European officials to discuss available options.

“We are supportive of all digitalization efforts because we believe everyone benefits when more information is available online,” said Susan D. Wojcicki ’90, the company’s director of product development. According to Wojcicki, U.S. libraries are already contributing material written in foreign languages.

Although 23 national libraries in the E.U.’s 25 member states have expressed support for a European search engine, not all of the governments have yet signed on—the crucial step for attaining E.U. funding.

—Staff writer Kimberly A. Kicenuik can be reached at

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