Microsoft moves to digitize British Library

The scanning race has started: Microsoft Corp. announced an agreement Friday to scan 25 million pages from the British Library’s collection that will eventually be made available on its MSN Book Search site next year.

Around 100,000 books from the British Library’s 13 million book collection will be digitized, according to a joint press release. MSN Book Search, launched earlier this month, is scheduled for a beta release next year.

The agreement comes as Microsoft’s competitors, such as Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc., are aggressively moving toward compiling online libraries of books amid copyright concerns. The titles to be scanned at the British Library are no longer under copyright restrictions.

Microsoft is contracting with the Internet Archive, a nonprofit group based in San Francisco that works on digital preservation projects, to do the scanning, said Richard Boulderstone, director of e-Strategy for the British Library. Microsoft is not paying the library for access; however, the library will benefit, as it has been working for the last 10 years on digitization.

Despite a decade of work, only 0.2 percent of the library’s vast collection has been digitized, Boulderstone said.

“Actually, for us to have some of these commercial players come along and want to work with us on digitizing these collections, it’s fantastic,” Boulderstone said.

Microsoft’s announcement comes as Google said Thursday it had made a significant addition of scans from public-domain books to its Google Print site. The company is working from the collections of the University of Michigan, Harvard University, Stanford University, the New York Public Library and Oxford University.

Google is also facing two copyright infringement lawsuits over the scanning of copyright works in those collections, a practice that the company has halted but vows to resume, citing laws that allow certain liberties with the use of protected material. Google said it will focus on out-of-print and older selections.

Yahoo and Microsoft have thrown their support behind the Open Content Alliance (OCA), a group based in San Francisco working to digitize public domain text and films. The Internet Archive is one member of the OCA.

Yahoo has offered to index content while also funding the digitization of a collection of American literature selected by the University of California.

MSN said last week it is talking with libraries and publishers about offering copyrighted material in its index. Microsoft eventually plans to build a business model around the search service for copyright works, but so far has said it doesn’t intend to charge for searches of noncopyrighted material.

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