Rival company Yahoo! earlier this month said it had embarked on a similar initiative. Both are following in the footsteps of Google, which started scanning in books from libraries and universities last year.
The Google initiative proved controversial with publishers, who claim that scanning and posting portions of books potentially violates copyright law. Google allows copyright holders to opt-out of the index, which prevents the books from being searchable--and this summer, Google suspended a portion of its book scanning program until November. Still, Google currently faces copyright infringement lawsuits by the Author's Guild and the Association of American Publishers.
MSN is hoping to avoid similar problems by only targeting works in the public domain or uncopyrighted material. The company said in a statement that it would respect all copyrights and work with rights holders to agree upon protections for copyrights.
To bolster the project, MSN also announced its intention to join the Open Content Alliance--an organization that is dedicated to digitizing offline information, but only scans and indexes books that copyright holders have made available, and works in the public domain.
The organization was founded early this year, backed by Yahoo! and the Internet Archive, and includes tech companies like Adobe Systems and Hewlett-Packard Labs, as well as universities, nonprofits, and governmental organizations like the National Archives of the United Kingdom, the Prelinger Archive, and the University of Toronto. The group emphasizes its commitment to copyright protection on its Web site. "OCA contributors must secure the permission of all concerned copyright holders prior to submitting materials to the OCA for digitization or inclusion in the archive," the organization's frequently asked questions page states.