Google Inc is asking European book publishers to submit non-English material to its Internet-leading search engine -- a move that may ease worries about the company's digital library relying too heavily on Anglo-American content.
Under an expansion announced Thursday, the company opened its ambitious Google Print book-scanning project to publishers in France, Italy, Germany, Netherlands and Spain.
It marks the first time that Google has sought submissions from non-English publishers since it began to scan books into its search engine index last year.
The Google Print undertaking represents a major piece of Google's effort to convert printed material into a digital format so it can be called up from any computing device with an Internet connection. By indexing the material, Google hopes to attract more visitors to its Web site and spawn more searches that generate advertising revenue.
Google's database already includes books printed in about 100 different languages, but all that material came from US, Canadian and Australian publishers that submitted a handful of non-English books on their own.
By reaching out to European publishers, Google hopes to substantially increase the volume of non-English books in its database, said Jim Gerber, director of content partnership for Google's print program.
If Google achieves that objective, it could mute European critics who sniped at the company earlier this year for giving a top priority to scanning English-language books.
The backlash prompted political leaders in six European countries to consider creating their own digital library.
Leaving the task entirely to Google would risk Europe losing "its just place in the future of geography of knowledge," the heads of state in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland and Hungary said in an appeal to the EU earlier this year.
Google assured its European critics that it wanted to include more non-English content, a promise that is now being backed up by Thursday's announcement. "The goal has always been to be more inclusive of all information," Gerber said.
The latest announcement, however, doesn't address a potential legal headache.
Besides seeking the voluntary cooperation of publishers, Google also has worked out deals with libraries at Harvard, Michigan and Stanford Universities to scan millions of books protected by copyrights.
Publishers have argued that Google needs their explicit permission to do so. The industry outrage prompted Google to stop pulling copyrighted books from library shelves until Nov. 1 -- the deadline that the company has set for publishers to opt out of the program.
Google intends to renew its scanning after that, setting the stage for a possible legal showdown over what constitutes "fair use" under US copyright law.
Publishers that voluntarily participate like the book-scanning program, because Google strictly limits the amount of material that can be viewed.