November 17, 2010 9:10 pm

Google and Hachette in landmark deal

Google and Hachette Livre have struck a groundbreaking deal allowing the world’s second largest retail book publisher to control the scanning and electronic sale of its out-of-print French language titles.

The agreement, covering about 50,000 mostly forgotten works of French literature and non-fiction still under copyright, is unlikely to bring in big revenues for the French group, which is owned by Lagardère. But it is a symbolic victory for publishers around the world trying to protect their businesses against the encroachment on their territory of the internet.

Google and Hachette, France’s leading publisher by sales, said on Wednesday they hoped their agreement would serve as a blueprint for other French publishers and for other countries, including Spain.

Under the agreement, Hachette will decide which of its out-of-print titles it wants Google to scan and whether these should be available for sale or for search. This gives it more direct control in Google’s book digitisation project than English-language publishers would have under a proposed US settlement, which is still awaiting Department of Justice approval.

Under the settlement, those publishers and authors have to opt out of Google’s project.

The additional safeguards reflect differences between French and US copyright law. But the deal is also the result of strong resistance by French publishers, backed by the government in Paris, to Google’s plans to scan millions of works that are held in libraries.

Google was convicted of copyright infringement by a French court in December 2009 for digitising out-of-print titles from the publisher La Martinière without its consent.

Google’s books project is regarded by some French political figures as a US assault on France’s cultural heritage.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has even threatened to try to tax Google’s French advertising revenues, though the company’s European operations are taxed in Ireland.

Google has, in turn, made a big effort to woo French policy-makers.

After a meeting with Mr Sarkozy in September, Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, announced plans to set up a multimillion dollar research centre and a “European cultural institute” in France.

Arnaud Nourry, chief executive of Hachette, said the deal offered a “fresh start based on fairness, even-handedness and the acknowledgement of our rights and those of our authors”.

“Agreements of this type make irrelevant our past differences – allowing us to move forward to bring French language books back to life,” said Dan Clancy, director of Google Books.

The deal means electronic books will be available through Google or other platforms. Hachette would also be able to set the price of its e-books.

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