Google has caused worldwide consternation amongst authors and representative groups with its Google Books project, which is scanning in the contents of entire libraries. It has already scanned in 10 million books, many of which are still protected by copyright law.
The EU's digital library project, Europeana, has scanned in 4.6 million items, including maps, photos and films as well as books. It does not yet, though, normally scan out of print or orphaned works that are still protected by copyright.
Google has signed a controversial deal in the US with the Authors' Guild that allows it to scan copyright materials in the US. It has no such deal in the EU and so does not scan copyrighted works in Europe.
The Commission wants to hear the views of industry and the public on how it should operate its €3 million per year Europeana project.
"Questions the Commission asks include: How can it be ensured that digitised material can be made available to consumers EU-wide? Should there be better cooperation with publishers with regard to in-copyright material? Would it be a good idea to create European registries for orphan and out-of print works? How should Europeana be financed in the long term?" said the Commission in a statement announcing the consultation.
Critics of Google's book-scanning project have argued that it should be public bodies such as the European Commission that scan, hold and take charge of books and not a private company.
But Europeana has been hampered by its inability to scan in copyrighted works. It is estimated that most published work is still copyright protected and that, for example, 32 of the 40 million books in US libraries are still protected by copyright.
"Europeana … shows that licensing of copyright-protected material in Europe still takes place under a very fragmented legal framework," said a Commission statement. "Europeana includes, for legal reasons, neither out-of print works (some 90% of the books in Europe's national libraries), nor orphan works (estimated at 10 – 20% of in-copyright collections) which are still in copyright but where the author cannot be identified."
Commission data shows that 47% of the material on Europeana has come from France, and another 15% from Germany. The UK and the Netherlands, at 8% each, are the next biggest contributors.
Commissioner for Information Society and Media Viviane Reding said that it was important that individual countries made sure that their publications were being digitised.
"The digitisation of books is a Herculean task but also opens up cultural content to millions of citizens in Europe and beyond. This is why I welcome first efforts made by Member States and their cultural institutions to fill the shelves of Europe's digital library,” she said. "However, I find it alarming that only 5% of all digitised books in the EU are available on Europeana."
"Member States must stop envying progress made in other continents and finally do their own homework. It also shows that Europeana alone will not suffice to put Europe on the digital map of the world. We need to work better together to make Europe's copyright framework fit for the digital age," she said.
The consultation runs until 15 November.