Web beats book ban


FRENCH lawyers faced a legal tangle last week after an Internet version of a banned book about Francois Mitterrand went online and quickly had over 1,000 "hits" an hour.

The Great Secret, written by the late president's former personal doctor, Claude Gubler, reveals confidential details about Mitterrand's fatal cancer. It also claims he was unfit to rule from the end of 1994, spending much time in bed and refusing to sign papers.

The owner of an Internet cafe in eastern France scanned in the book and put it on the Web (at http://www.le-web.fr), in protest at the ban. A Paris court imposed a 1,000 franc fine (about IR£125) for every print copy sold, in a case taken by the Mitterrand family against invasion of privacy.

On Wednesday police paid a reconnaissance visit" to the cafe, but stressed that it was not part of legal proceedings.

The 190 page book, released a week after Mitterrand died, was banned 24 hours after it was released, after some 40,000 copies had been sold.

Prosecutors said they were powerless to act over the online distribution, but at least one legal expert said a prosecution could be brought. "Criminal responsibility can be pursued by the family of Franinvasion of privacy," said specialist lawyer Christiane Feral Schuhl.

She said action could be taken against the cybercafe's owner for "violation of the author's rights, since he does not own the online rights for the book".

The book's publishers, Plon, said they were studying the legal position. "Publishing contracts take into account protection of rights on electronic or numerical systems, but we don't want to confuse two problems: the book's ban and the unprecedented situation of it being put on the Internet," a company representative said.

But local prosecutor Christian Hassenfratz, who would in theory take action, said neither of these cases applied. "I am not planning to take action unless someone makes a formal complaint," he said.

While conceding that there was "a pure and simple plagiary of intellectual property", he said he would take no action because "the interests of the author are not exactly legitimate", due to the court ban.