Czech publishers opposed to Google’s plans to digitise millions of books

The Google Books Library is a huge project under which the internet giant aims to scan millions of books and make them available on-line. In the US a court is considering a deal struck between Google and publishers that would cover all books covered by copyright in the US, a deal which would see copyright holders receive nearly two thirds of the price of books printed to order from Google Books. Now the issue has come before the European Commission in Brussels, with many in Europe wary of Google’s plans. Among them is the Association of Czech Booksellers and Publishers. I spoke to its chairman Vladimír Pistorius at a Prague centre bookshop on Tuesday morning.

“We’re against it for two reasons. The first is that if it happens Google will be in gross violation of the copyright of European authors and publishers. The second is that this breach of the law – which as a contravention of the law is itself a bad thing – could very seriously threaten the book market in Europe.”

But Google Books makes a lot of books available to readers which they currently can’t find anywhere. Also the authors do get paid quite a lot of the money that comes in from this service – aren’t there some good things to be said about the Google system?

“In this case I think that one person’s needs – that is the user who will easily find books on Google – clashes with the rights of authors. I’m sure you’d also find it great if you could go to a bookshop and take home a book without paying for it.”

You seem to be worried about the possibility of the book industry going the same way as the music industry and the film industry, with a lot of illegal downloads. Are you against all digital books?

“Publishers have different views on this. I’m among those who are worried about digitalisation. I think rapid digitalisation could seriously disturb the books market. Others would like to experiment with that method of publication and distribution. But the difference between that and what Google is doing is that it’s all legal. They sign licensing agreements and so on.”

Vladimír Pistorius, photo: CTK
At the moment Google is talking to the European Commission – how do you think that will turn out?

“I really couldn’t tell you. I think that recently Google has become aware that the deal they prepared for US publishers was for the American environment, and it doesn’t correspond to Europe. It’ll try to find some way out, because the situation is unsustainable.”

Do you think that in 10 years from today Czech books will be on Google Books Library?

“I don’t think so.”