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Heads Up, ODF - MS Makes a Pitch to EU Commission Digital Library
Tuesday, March 07 2006 @ 03:14 AM EST

The EU Commission would like to create a digital library. Microsoft has already pitched them on their XML, telling the Commission that they have sent their XML to ECMA with hopes of it becoming an ISO standard someday and they'd like to work with the Commission going forward.

I stumbled across the information when I found that the EU Commission has completed an online survey on issues related to its proposed digital library:

The European Commissions’ plan to promote digital access to Europe’s heritage is rapidly taking shape. At least six million books, documents and other cultural works will be made available to anyone with a Web connection through the European Digital Library over the next five years. In order to boost European digitisation efforts, the Commission will co-fund the creation of a Europe-wide network of digitisation centres. The Commission will also address, in a series of policy documents, the issue of the appropriate framework for intellectual property rights protection in the context of digital libraries.

You can read an overview of the suggestions they received [PDF]. All the responses can be found here, except for two that requested not to be included in the online collection.

Here's Microsoft Europe's suggestion.

Their pitch uses the subtle FUD that their XML will offer backward compatibility to older Microsoft documents. If that is the pitch, how to they plan to keep ODF from being able to do the same thing, pray tell? Will applications that support their XML be able to open older Word documents, whereas applications using ODF will be shut out or hobbled? You think? If that isn't the plan, how is it a selling point that their XML can do it? I noticed they mentioned that at LinuxForum also (audio here). Let me show you what they wrote, and you be the judge. I find Microsoft's vision for the library disturbing in several ways.

Here's how they put it:

The technology designed to enable access to the content is of great importance. ....

Microsoft also recognizes the importance of preservation beyond the life of any single product or organization. Information created by an author belongs to the author and should be under the author’s full control. These objectives can be met only through standardisation. Acknowledging this issue, Microsoft has recently submitted the specification for the MS Office Open XML format to the ECMA International body for standardisation, with the ultimate goal to obtain ISO certification. The objective is to protect the investments of Microsoft clients and consumers who created billions of Office documents and to provide a mature and extensible open standard XML format that could be used for preservation of the digital content. The British Library joined the initiative and is now chairing the technical committee TC45 in ECMA international.

What they failed to mention: there is already a standard, OpenDocument Format, a year ahead of Microsoft in the standards approval track. I don't see any obvious input from any ODF group or at first glance from IBM or Sun or Novell or anyone to tell the EU any different. Hopefully, it's there and I just missed it.

The most chilling of all the proposals mentioned in the overview document is one to charge the public for access to public domain works. No. Really. Microsoft has a sneakier method:

However, besides a careful approach to technical issues, we have to find a way to make the digitization effort self-sustainable. We propose a strategy that is focussed on the content exploitation models. We recommend that content consumption scenarios strongly complement other factors, such as preservation, in driving the main aspects of the digitization process: selection of material, quality of the content scanning, metadata enhancement, delivery channel, and access services. This same principle is expected to boost the digitization of the non-English material as local economies and local needs present opportunities for exploitation of such data.

Most of the scenarios for exploiting digital content will require a clear value proposition. We propose to enhance digitized and archived content by context sensitive aggregation with the contemporary content. Essentially, the archived information would be used in association with the current and highly valued information that may be in the public domain (already in the digital form) or distributed by publishers.

One such scenario is educational material for schools. Augmentation of text books with the digitized content of historical documents provides a clear value that can be captured through the supplementary cost of educational material and re-invested into digitization. The key is a clear connection with the educational curriculum. At the national level, teaching history, language, geography, and similar subjects is primarily done in the native language and focussed on the national aspects of the shared history. They are particularly amenable to boosting digitization of the material in the native language. Furthermore, similar type of collaboration with newspapers, journals, etc., in a local language, is possible through augmentation with digital copies of newspapers from the past, for comparison, specific interest, or pleasure. Again, the augmented value of the publications can be captured through appropriate pricing and re-invested into further digitization.

Chilling, no?

  1. Take a public domain work,
  2. add an extension,
  3. and presto! Profit.

What about bloggers and other "consumers" who might be creating "content"? Microsoft has a plan for that too:

Can the public help in the selection and gathering of valuable content and digitization? As individuals prepare their own archives they may have created publications and information resources that are of wider interest and that ultimately may become valuable and unique or rare. Can we build a model of ‘donation’ of personal digital archives that makes sense and complements other digitization efforts? What could the consumers get in return? Could, for example, libraries be reformed to subsume the role of data repositories, covering storage and backups for the consumers’ contemporary and aging information? In return the libraries inherit the digital archives after a given period of time and can make some of them available for public consumption.

So we little people can give away our rights, monetary, moral, and copyright, to libraries for the greater good. Businesses however ... well, Microsoft has a different plan for them:

In order to continue protecting the intellectual property, and maintain the societal and economic role of European publishers, content creators and distributors need DRM (Digital Rights Management) technologies and clear IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) policies. Without addressing these challenges we will not be able to create incentives for the European publishers to contribute and invest in the vision of the digital information society. There are a wide variety of copyright licensing models that could help make this happen, from individually negotiated licenses, to blanket licenses such as some publishing organizations have already negotiated with national libraries, to ‘free’ licenses such as that promoted by the Creative Commons for those who do not want remuneration for the content they own. ....


In order to enable and ensure that publishers and authors can recover the value of the published work, it is absolutely necessary to have two pieces of technology and services in place: a DRM and a micro-payment technology. Once the information stakeholders can control the revenue, they will be open to providing information online. Furthermore, we have to respect legal measures already in place to ensure that the publishers of copyrighted information are protected and that the protection provided by the law is enforceable.

At the end, you find the business pitch:

Together with more than 37.000 local European software partners we are providing a business and technological platform for addressing the significant technological, social, economic and policy challenges. Should the interest exist in the Commission and among the European Member States, we would like to participate in the further dialogue and activities around definition, research, and execution of some action. We expect to be able to contribute in:
Technological advancements in content creation tools, metadata repositories, search technologies and accessibility tools for users with disabilities.

Business information for the creation of vendor neutral technological and business platforms.

Mutually defined public private partnerships

Common approach for awareness raising in the EU 25 member states

Joint research activities in digital information management and retrieval.

So, that's the Microsoft vision. How do you like it?

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