Software giant Microsoft Corp. said Friday it has signed a deal to scan 100,000 books from the British Library and put them online.

In entering the digital book market, Microsoft is taking a page from Amazon.com, which announced a deal Thursday to sell digital books on line and Google Inc. with its massive digitization project of five libraries.

Readers will be able to search through around 25 million pages of material from the British Library next year without having to visit London or pay any fee.

Microsoft initially is investing $2.5 million US in the project to digitize older works whose copyright is in the public domain, but both sides say there are plans to digitize more titles in the future.

The British Library's vast collection includes 13 million books, seven million manuscripts, 4.5 million maps, 56 million patents, 3.5 million sound recordings, eight million stamps and 58 million newspapers in various formats.

Google's plan to upload its own digital library has been dogged by complaints from publishers and writers groups that their copyrights were being infringed. But undisputed work began to go online on Thursday.

The British Library called its deal with Microsoft a "strategic partnership" that would give people access to its collections, anywhere, anytime.

The library said its deal with Microsoft was not exclusive and that scanned books would be posted on the British Library's own website, currently freely searchable through Google.

"This is great news for research and scholarship, and will give unparalleled access to our vast collections to people all over the world," the British Library's chief executive Lynne Brindley said in a statement.