Google's plans to make the content of millions of books available online are to be investigated by the EU over fears that the service may affect US authors' rights in Europe.
Government ministers from the EU's member countries met yesterday to discuss the implications of Google Books and have announced plans to look at the service in more detail.
"The commission will carefully study the whole issue and, if need be, to take steps," Vladimir Tosovsky, industry minister for the Czech EU presidency, told a news conference. "These are the first steps we are taking in this matter. Who knows what will result?"
Google Books carries extracts of books protected by copyright, as well as complete works whose copyright has expired. Authors and publishers have to opt out of the service to get their titles removed.
However, the German government suspects that this business model is illegal in Europe. The German appeal says: "Google's actions are irreconcilable with the principles of European copyright law, according to which the consent of the author must be obtained before his or her works may be reproduced or made publicly available on the internet."
This view is shared by officials in France. A French law passed earlier this month allows the government to cut internet access to people who are caught illegally downloading copyright-protected material three times.
Google said it wasn't worried by the investigation. "The ministers will ask the European Commission to 'analyse' the Google Books deal struck with authors in the US," said Google spokesman William Echikson. He said that Google "welcomed the opportunity to engage in a constructive dialogue about the future of books and copyright".