Copyright law and online books

The concept of “books” is undergoing transformation as attempts are made to digitize them and make them available online. A new copyright system needs to be created that can accommodate this trend while upholding the rights of authors and publishers.

Google Inc., an Internet service giant, is constructing a large digital book database in cooperation with publishing houses and libraries. The project makes classic titles available for download online. Users of Sony Corp.’s e-book readers can now access 1 million titles through Google’s public domain free of charge.

In Japan, Keio University joined Google’s project in 2007, making itself the 26th institution to participate. Keio offers books whose copyright has expired as content for the project. Scanning of the books started in July.

There are moves to prevent Google from establishing a monopoly position in the online library enterprise. The European Union started the online library Europeana in November 2008. It links databases all over Europe, making it unnecessary for users to search digital libraries individually to locate texts, images, sounds and videos. Over 10 million digital items are expected to be accessible in 2010.

In Japan, the Copyright Law was revised June 12, enabling the National Diet Library to digitize its books. The fiscal 2009 supplementary budget allocates ¥12.6 billion for digitizing about 920,000 titles or about one-fourth the books owned by the library in one to two years’ time.

But the National Diet Library has to negotiate with copyright holders and publishing houses on the extent to which the digitized titles should be made available. The publishing industry fears that if the titles go online, the industry will suffer. As the Diet library director Mr. Makoto Nagao said, the library and the publishing industry should create a system that will enable their coexistence and co-prosperity, and contribute to enhancing Japan’s cultural level.