EU Affirms Commitment To Homegrown Google Books Alternative

EU Affirms Commitment To Homegrown Google Books Alternative

Ben Farrow is a JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.

On October 27, 2011 the European Commission adopted a recommendation (2011/711/EU) calling for the nations of the EU to pool their resources and renew their commitment to the digitisation of European cultural texts and artifacts. These cultural materials are stored in Europe’s digital library, Europeana.

As previously reported by the IPilogue, Europeana represents Europe’s homegrown response to competition from Google Books. Started in 2008 with only 2 million items, Europeana’s collection has since grown to over 19 million objects. These objects include digitised books, photographs, paintings, manuscripts, maps, newspapers, archival documents, audio and film. As Google’s resource digitisation project gained traction in the United States in 2008 and 2009, the EU launched Europeana as a publicly funded alternative that allowed them to sidestep the perils they perceived to exist in Google’s project. The European Commission worried about reliance on a corporate actor for the preservation and reproduction of their culture and history.

As outlined in both the Recommendation and a press release by the European Commission announcing the adoption of Recommendation 2011/711/EU, EU member states have been challenged to grow the collection to 30 million items by 2015. In order to achieve this goal, the Commission suggests that states seek innovative solutions and adopt programs that engage the private sector. As outlined in the press release, the Commission is hoping “to get more in-copyright and out-of-commerce material online and to adapt national legislation and strategies to ensure the long term preservation of digital materials”.

Over the last few years, the Commission has been pushing Europeana as a one-stop shop for the digital preservation of Europe’s shared history and culture. This recommendation is simply another representation of the Commission’s commitment to coming up with a pan-European solution which allows the citizens of Europe greater access to culturally significant items from the comfort of their own homes. As stated by the Commission on previous occasions and affirmed in the press release accompanying Recommendation 2011/711/EU, the hope is that Europeana’s content will spur development of educational content, documentaries, and tourism related applications. The Commission states that the digitisation project “will give enormous economic opportunities to Europe’s creative industries, which currently account for 3.3% of the EU’s GDP and 3% of jobs in the EU.”

Europeana and the digitisation activities associated with it are one of the “digital service infrastructures” earmarked for funding under the Connecting Europe Facility 2014-2020 and the project plays an integral role in the European Commission’s Digital Agenda for Europe. Europeana has also just launched two innovative projects. The first, entitled “The First World War in Everyday Documents,” is a project that allows citizens to submit their own stories and memorabilia from World War I. So far, Europeana has collected and digitised more than 25,000 items as part of this project.

The second project Europeana recently undertook was the “Hack4Europe! Roadshow”. As part of this project, 85 developers were given access to Europeana’s content in order to produce innovative prototype applications for mobile or gaming devices. With the adoption of this recommendation, Europe has once again affirmed its position that the digitisation of culturally significant objects and in-copyright and out-of-commerce represents an important undertaking that requires support from all of Europe’s Member States.