EU to Investigate Google Books' Copyright Policies

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Government ministers from the European Union's member countries are meeting Thursday and expected to call for an investigation into the way Google Books handles copyright.Google Books carries extracts of books protected by copyright, as well as complete works whose copyright has expired. Authors and publishers have to opt out of the service to get their titles removed.The German government suspects that this business model is illegal in Europe. It will propose that the European Commission, the E.U.'s executive body, open an inquiry to see if Google Books conforms with Europe's copyright laws."Google Books raises concerns in some member states," said a Czech diplomatic source who requested anonymity. The Czech Republic currently occupies the E.U.'s six-month rotating presidency.

Other countries known to share Germany's concerns include France. A French law passed earlier this month allows the government to cut Internet access to people who are caught illegally downloading copyright-protected material three times.

A ruling in favor of requesting a probe is "the likely outcome of today's meeting," the diplomat said. "The law in Europe is very different from in the U.S., so we need to do a compliance check here."Last year in the U.S., Google settled a class-action lawsuit by promising to create a "book rights registry" to ensure that copyright holders are compensated for digitized copyright works. The agreement's impact is being tested, allowing both sides until September 2009 to object.

Opposition to the U.S. settlement is believed to be growing, which adds to the sense of urgency in some parts of Europe to find a workable solution here, the diplomat said.

Google said it wasn't worried by the attention. "The ministers will ask the European Commission to 'analyze' the Google Books deal struck with authors in the U.S.," said company spokesman William Echikson in an e-mail.

He added that Google "welcomed the opportunity to engage in a constructive dialogue about the future of books and copyright."The Czech diplomat said it is too early to say what action may lead from a Commission inquiry. "These are the first steps we are taking in this matter. Who knows what will result?"

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