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Japanese Book Publishers Up Against Wall As IPad Spurs Cottage Industry of Book Scanning

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The murky status of rights clearance is bamboozling the Japanese publishing industry's efforts to move into the eBook market even as start-ups take matters into their own hands and start scanning books for people who want to make space in their apartments in Japan, according to a recent report in Bloomberg.

The recent arrival of Apple's iPad is accelerating the trend, according to Bloomberg.

"People are taking matters in their own hands because the publishers are not meeting the market's needs," Toshihiro Takagi, an analyst at market research firm Impress R&D, told Bloomberg in Tokyo.

Consumers such as Yusuke Ohki, who has 2,000 books in his Tokyo apartment, are scanning them and accessing them through their iPads.

Ohki has since started up his own 120-person firm that does the same thing for customers. There are as many as 60 companies offering such a service, according to Bloomberg.

Japanese publishers are facing the same quandary as U.S. publishers did when Google started its book scanning project several years ago to make them more accessible to the public. They're hamstrung by the byzantine system of copyright agreements between themselves and their authors.

Takagi also said that the publishers are being held back by the pricing system in Japan and problems rendering Japanese characters on screen.

Bloomberg notes that Japan has a $24 billion market for books and magazines  -- the largest in the world.

The Japan Book Publishers Association notes that scanning for personal use is permitted by Japanese copyright law. Book scanning services have customers sign a document that says that the scans are for personal use only before completing the scan.

But observers worry that scans of these books will nevertheless start circulating online.

For its part, Google has reached a complex settlement with American book publishers and their authors. The agreement is still  awaiting approval by a federal district court.

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