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November 3, 2005 9:59 pm

Microsoft in deal with British Library

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Microsoft on Thursday announced a ?strategic partnership? with the British Library that will allow the software group to digitise 25m pages of content - the equivalent of 100,000 books.

The deal with one of the world's great libraries will be seen as an attempt to make up lost ground in its battle with Google, which only on Thursday unveiled its first digital book collection.

The agreement will allow the US software company to scan some of the library's collection and to make digital copies of the books available on the internet.

Once some technical challenges have been overcome, the ?digitised? books, journals, maps and manuscripts would be made available on the library's website and on a new MSN Book Search service which Microsoft plans to launch next year.

Alistair Baker, managing director of Microsoft, said the deal was a strategic investment for the company. ?This deal will add to the level of content and value of the MSN portal.? Meanwhile, Google Print, a collaboration between the search engine and a clutch of world-class libraries, on Thursday announced it had added the first tranche of material to its search engine.

The scheme enraged some book publishers, who have accused Google of violating their copyright, and alarmed the European Commission, which has announced its own proposals to preserve digitally Europe's visual and written heritage. Google's digital collection unveiled on Thursday is of older books and documents that are not subject to copyright law.

Microsoft said it would invest $2.5m in the British Library venture next year as ?an initial investment?. While the early ?pilot? phase will aim to process 10,000 books, the company made clear that it saw its involvement with the British Library as a long-term project.

Microsoft said the technology that would be developed to scan the material, index it and make whole books searchable could be commercially exploited by companies looking to store huge paper archives digitally.

The work will be conducted in conjunction with the Open Content Alliance, a consortium of non-profit and for-profit groups led by Yahoo. It was set up this year in response to Google Print's digitisation venture.

The British Library said it was happy to work with any company that helped it make its holdings more readily available. Lynne Brindley, the library's chief executive, said: ?Our aim is to provide perpetual access to the intellectual output of the nation.?

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