French National Library to open archives to Microsoft Bing

Microsoft will give special treatment to search results from the French National Library's scans of public domain books

Microsoft's Bing search engine will give special treatment to search results from the archives of the French National Library, the two organizations announced Thursday.

During a visit to Paris this week, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer signed an agreement with Bruno Racine, the library's president, to improve Bing's access to the archive.

The agreement will increase the number of potential users of the library's archives worldwide, Racine said in a statement.

The library is making it easier for Microsoft to link to digitized versions of over a million documents in its archives. In return, Microsoft will make search results from the library more prominent.

No money will change hands as a result of the deal, which is non-exclusive, meaning that Microsoft can give similar prominence to search results from other document archives, and the library can give similar access to other search engines, including Google.

The deal is a sign that the French National Library's attitude to U.S.-owned search engines may be softening under Racine's direction.

His predecessor, Jean-Noël Jeanneney, was a fierce opponent of Google's project to scan the world's books and put them online, Google Book Search.

Jeanneney called for funding of Europeana, a European Union project to digitize cultural the E.U.'s cultural treasures, and under his leadership the French National Library launched its own digital library.

That project, Gallica, has already scanned 1.25 million out-of-copyright documents from the library's archives, using optical character recognition to index the text on 40 million pages and make them available through a search engine on its site.

Google's approach has been to scan whole libraries full of books, whether under copyright or not, something that landed it in trouble with French courts last year.

Microsoft too launched a book scanning project, but abandoned it in May 2008, saying that it could see no way to make money from it. Instead, it announced that it would partner with libraries and publishers to make their digitized archives searchable.

In line with that project, Microsoft plans to offer improved access to the French National Library's Gallica database when it launches the French version of its Bing search engine, now in beta testing. The company will give direct access to the content of the documents from search results, and will add a visual search tool based on a gallery of images, it said.

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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