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2009年5月26日 (火)


--The Asahi Shimbun, May 25(IHT/Asahi: May 26,2009)
EDITORIAL: Digitization of books

The world's largest Internet search engine service provider, U.S.-based Google Inc., is moving ahead with a database service that will allow nearly instant access to information from a vast array of books around the world.

Google has electronically copied more than 7 million books from university libraries and other facilities in the United States and Europe. Although information available on the web can be hit or miss, information from books generally tends to be of high quality. Using the Google Book Search service, users will be able to read out-of-print books on the Internet.

Google and U.S. organizations representing authors and publishers have reached a settlement in which 63 percent of income Google earns from database service and advertising fees will be distributed to copyright holders. However, the agreement, as it affects Japanese authors, has become contentious.

For example, more than 500 books by Haruki Murakami are on Google's list. There are also many other digitized Japanese books. If Japanese books no longer in circulation are deemed out of print, then in the future, Google could make many of them available to the public.

The copyright holder can ask Google to delete the works from the database, but unless they file opt-out claims, by default it will mean the copyright holder agrees with Google's rules. This one-sided approach caused the Japan Writers' Association to issue a written objection. Google needs to give a full explanation and be more circumspect.

Nevertheless, there is no question that in the future, Google's Book Search will be hugely influential worldwide. If so, will it be in Japan's interest to have Google delete data on Japanese books in a mere attempt to protect copyrights?

What is important is that this process of collecting our heritage of "knowledge" must not be left in the hands of one private company in the United States. We can never know when the company may change its business policy.

It is totally up to Google what search results appear on top, and how the system is operated. It is convenient, but it is also possible that the operation will be unstable or biased. That is why we must create diverse systems to accumulate and search for knowledge.

Last November, the European Union set up a database service, Europeana. It is an online collection of digitized items held by museums, libraries and archives in 27 member states.

Users can search and view books, artworks and audiovisual images. The database holds more than 4 million items, due to reach 10 million next year. Also, in South Korea, the national library is actively digitizing its archives. In contrast, Japan has been slow to pursue a comprehensive approach.

But now, a tailwind is beginning to push things forward.

A bill to revise the Copyright Law is now in the Diet. If it is enacted, the National Diet Library will be able to make digital copies of its archives without obtaining permission from each individual copyright owner.

In the supplementary budget to stimulate the economy, this digitization project was allocated about 12.6 billion yen, a sum that under normal circumstances would cover the budget for the digitization project for 100 years.

If things go according to plan, a quarter of all domestic library data will be digitized by next spring.

A book is a result of an author's ideas and hard work. We should respect that, protect the author's rights, and then work to create new values using digital technologies. Both the public and private sectors must work together to hasten efforts to collect this country's knowledge and transmit it to the world.


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