Publishers to sue Google over copyright


A GROUP of major French publishers is to take legal action against Google for digitally scanning their books for its online library.

The US technology giant has digitised and made publicly available parts of at least 12 million literary works, many of which are under copyright, and French publisher Gallimard says it has continued to post its works despite requests to stop.

It is understood that Gallimard will be joined in its action against Google by Albin Michel, Flammarion and Eyrolles. Last December, a Paris court found the California-based firm guilty of copyright infringement by scanning French books held in US libraries without consent. The court ordered the group to stop scanning without prior authorisation titles published by La Martinière, the company that brought the case, and instructed it to pay €300,000 in damages and interest. Google said it would appeal. The case was the first time that Google’s ambitious scheme to scan in-copyright but out-of-print books held in US libraries – including foreign works – was deemed illegal by a court.

In France, digitisation has become a contentious issue and has aroused debate over the sensitive issue of protecting cultural and intellectual property. President Nicolas Sarkozy publicly challenged Google’s plans last December when he said his country would not allow itself “be stripped of its heritage for the benefit of a big company, no matter how friendly, big or American it is”. He also announced that France’s national digitisation project – Gallica – would be one of the major projects financed by a national loan, which is due to inject billions of euro into strategic investments this year.

Despite Google’s book project running into legal problems, however, the company arrived at another landmark last month when it reached agreement with the Italian culture ministry to scan up to a million books housed in the national libraries of Rome and Florence. The deal related to out-of-copyright books published before 1868, with Google agreeing to provide the libraries with digital copies of the books to post on their own websites.

Google has already agreed to scan and publish online books from many universities as well as public libraries in Bavaria in southern Germany, New York and and French city of Lyon.