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September 7, 2009 7:43 pm

France to oppose Google book scheme

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Google’s ambitious plans to scan millions of books and make them readable through its search engine suffered another blow on Monday after France said it would formally oppose the US settlement that Google needs to circumvent complex copyright issues.

France’s objections came as policymakers and interest groups met on Monday in Brussels to discuss the possibility of establishing a European framework that would give it permission to scan entire libraries in Europe.

France’s opposition to the US deal, on the grounds it will undermine French authors’ rights, means it is far less likely the European Union will adapt its copyright system to suit Google’s digitisation efforts.

Google’s efforts have stuttered in Europe because it cannot legally scan books that are still in copyright, which extends for 70 years after the death of a book’s author.

In the US, by contrast, a 2005 class-action lawsuit by authors and publishers has culminated in a $125m settlement paid by Google and a wide-ranging agreement on how to split any money made from the scheme.

A New York judge is due to rule next month on the legality of the settlement, and is accepting arguments from parties affected by the deal to inform the ruling.

France’s submission, to be signed this morning by Frédéric Mitterrand, culture minister, comes a week after Germany filed a similar objection in which it said the agreement would “irrevocably alter the landscape of international copyright law”.

A representative of the French government cited “a risk for cultural diversity” as being behind the intervention, as well as fears over Google’s dominance in book scanning.

Earlier this summer, France had looked to be an ally of Google in its book scanning efforts: leaks even linked the company to a digitisation deal with the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the very pinnacle of Gallic culture.

The rumours enraged intellectual circles, not least Mr Mitterrand, whose lofty rhetoric on the matter recalled his uncle, François Mitterrand, the former French president, after whom the library’s main Paris campus is named.

“The digitisation of our heritage must be done with an absolute guarantee of national independence,” he said last month.

Google faced a mixed reception in Brussels, with familiar friends and foes both at the all-day hearing organised by the European Commission.

Critics were largely unimpressed by Google’s last-minute concessions to European publishers, made over the weekend, that would grant non-Americans a say on how the scheme would be run.

Google said: “We don’t agree [with France’s position], since the scope of our US settlement is limited to the US and comes under US law and only US readers will benefit.”

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