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Why Google's deal with Italy is a good thing for readers

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(Read caption) An illuminated manuscript of Dante's Divine Comedy. Google's agreement with the Italian government will include the digitization of works by Dante.

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Good news for Google and also for readers hoping to brush up on their Dante: The Italian government and the search-engine giant have agreed that Google will digitize up to 1 million books from the national libraries in Florence and Rome. The books to be digitized were all published before 1868 (which means that copyright laws do not apply) and will include antiquarian texts, including works by Dante, Machiavelli, and Galileo.

Although Google has struck similar deals with universities in England and Spain and a state museum in Germany, The Wall Street Journal notes that this is Google's "first publishing partnership with a national government."

It's a good deal for Google, which will be able to expand the offerings – and particularly the non-English-language offerings – of its Book Project, which currently lists about 12 million books. The deal also means a win in Europe where recent Google-related headlines have been unfortunate for the company. (A French court has ruled that Google committed copyright violation by scanning certain French-language titles, and an Italian court recently slapped Google officials with jail sentences in connection with an ugly abuse-related video made popular on YouTube.)

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