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EU Commissioner Praises Google Books Project

As Google's controversial settlement with authors and publishers to create what could be the world's largest digital library approaches its day in court, a prominent European official has spoken out in support of the agreement.

European Union Media Commissioner Vivane Reding praised the agreement, calling the "digitization of cultural products" a "Herculean task" that would demand cooperation from the public and private sectors.

"Google Books is a commercial project developed by an important player," Reding said in a statement e-mailed to InternetNews.com. "It is good to see that new business models are evolving which could allow bringing more content to an increasing number of consumers."

Reding's comments come as the European Union is set to consider the Google Book Search agreement at a proceeding on Sept. 7. An EU spokeswoman said that the event will simply be a "workshop" to discuss the implications of the settlement, insisting that it is not a formal hearing or a "U.S.-type investigation."

The settlement is the subject of a more serious probe in the United States, where it is under review by the Justice Department and, separately, a federal court in New York.

The DoJ's review is ongoing, and the U.S. District Court in New York's Southern District is scheduled to hold a fairness hearing on the matter Oct. 7. The court is accepting comments from interested parties through Friday, the same day that Google set as a deadline for authors to opt out of the Book Search project through an online registry.

Google's settlement with the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers, which resolved a three-year-old class action suit, has drawn considerable opposition from a broad array of groups who warn that the deal will give the search giant license to create a monopoly and gouge schools and libraries for access to the service.

Most recently, the digital library organization Internet Archive teamed with Amazon, Microsoft, Yahoo and several other groups to form the Open Book Alliance, a coalition aiming to drum up opposition to the settlement agreement.

The EU spokeswoman said Europe's antitrust authority, the Directorate General for Competition, had not received any formal complaints opposing the settlement, but that it was "monitoring market developments."

While Commissioner Reding said she welcomed Google's efforts to deliver online access to out-of-print or hard-to-find books, she urged the company "to be respectful of intellectual property rights," and said that European authorities would closely watch U.S. proceedings to determine if Google's copyright model is workable.

Reding's comments on Google's Book Search agreement come as the European Commission is developing its own digital library, a project it is calling Europeana.

Europeana currently contains more than 5 million books, paintings and other cultural works in its digital repository, a number Reding said she expects to double next year.

Google has partnered with several European libraries that are contributing to the Europeana project. Antoine Aubert, Google's European copyright policy manager, insists that the two digital library efforts are not in competition.

"Both services are complimentary," Aubert wrote in a blog post. "Indeed, Google is working hard to expand its cooperation with European libraries which form Europeana's backbone."

Reding called on Google to ensure that that collaboration continues, suggesting that the search giant provide access to the public-domain books it scans through Europeana, in addition to its own Book Search project.