We can add Google to the growing list of US tech companies that have run afoul of overly aggressive European Union antitrust regulators recently. (The company joins Microsoft, Intel, and Oracle/Sun.) The Internet giant's plan to digitize books and thus "democratize" access to them caught the attention of the European Commission. And this past weekend, Google said it was ready to talk.
Google is proposing to give two of the eight director positions on its US book registry to non-U.S. representatives, a move it hopes will quell criticism of the program in Europe. In the United States, Google previously reached a revenue-sharing settlement with US-based publishers, ending a series of lawsuits that threatened to sideline Google's book-scanning program. The company spent $125 million setting up the book registry, which will ensure that copyright holders are paid for use of their works.
Google also promised the EU that it would not digitize European books unless it first contacted the publishers and received permission.
It's unclear if these moves will be enough. While publisher reaction to the scanning deal in the United States was highly negative, that reaction pales in comparison to the situation in Europe. EU-based publishing organizations told regulators that Google would have a "de-facto monopoly" if this scanning program was allowed to continue, and that the "US entity \[would\] dictate an international model of rights recording." Those are fighting words in the insular and overly-protective EU. And unlike with the Microsoft, Intel, and Oracle/Sun investigations, this time the EU might actually be right.
Google says the beginning of an agreement can be found in the settlement it struck with US-based publishers. "All of us, on both sides of the Atlantic, share the same crucial goal: to bring millions of lost books back to life," a Google statement reads. "Europeans, not just Americans, should be empowered to rediscover long lost books.