Monday, May 09, 2005

European digital library

EU leader backs European digital library to ward off US dominance


EU officials Tuesday backed calls to put European literature online amid fears that Europe's cultural heritage could be lost to future generations if US Internet giant Google pursues plans for a global virtual library.
"We have to act," Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, told a meeting of culture ministers and 800 artists and intellectuals in Paris who drew up a European charter for culture.
"That's why I say 'yes' to the initiative of the French president (Jacques Chirac) to launch a European digital library. I say 'yes' because Europe must not submit in the face of virulent attacks from others."
Six EU members -- France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Spain -- on Thursday asked the bloc to launch a European digital library, after 19 national libraries signed a motion urging action against the plans by the huge US search engine Google.
In December Michigan University and four other top libraries -- those at Harvard and Stanford universities, the New York Public Library and the Bodleian in Oxford -- announced they had made a deal with Google to digitise millions of their books and make them freely available online.
The entire project, which will mark a revolution in the information age, is expected to take up to 10 years, with cost estimates ranging from 150 million to 200 million dollars (115 million to 155 million euros).
Among the historical books held by the participating libraries are a 1687 first edition of Isaac Newton's "The Principia," owned by Stanford, and Charles Darwin's 1871 classic "The Descent of Man" in the Bodleian.
But many in the European cultural world are worried that such a move will favour works written in English and ignore the wealth of literature to be found in other languages.
France's National Library president Jean-Noel Jeanneney has acknowleged that the digitising of some 4.5 billion pages of text would help researchers and give poor nations access to global learning.
But he said recently: "The real issue is elsewhere. And it is immense. It is confirmation of the risk of a crushing American domination in the definition of how future generations conceive the world."
Juncker stressed in his speech at the Comedie Francaise on Tuesday that such a project could be realised only if enough funding was made available, criticising the 0.12 percent of the EU budget devoted to culture as "mediocre" and "insignificant."
At the end of the two-day meeting in Paris, European culture ministers signed a joint declaration to make culture a priority within the European family.
The so-called charter, signed by the 16 ministers present in Paris, reaffirms that EU policy must support "the recognition and specificity of cultural and audiovisual goods and services, which are not just ordinary goods."
Referring to the policy of subsidies and aid to the cultural sector, the text said that states had the right "to implement policies and measures which they judge are appropriate to preserving and developing cultural and artistic expression."
Some of the artists who took part in the two-day debate privately lamented that the discussions had been too academic, within the intimidating corridors of the house of Moliere.
"Too much hot air," said Polish writer and filmmaker Andrej Zulawski, who would have liked the artists to have been given more opportunity to make their case.


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