French Publishers opt-in agreement with Google

14 June, 2012 by Julie Alimi-Londner in Copyright

Everybody heard about the Google books project where Google ambitioned to scan and create the largest digital library and bookstore. Most of the Google Books U.S database is a compilation of works in the public domain, out of print or works no longer commercially available. These works come from US and English libraries such as libraries from Harvard, Stanford or Michigan Universities. The Google Books project also scans copyrighted books but does not make the entire work available to the public. As explained in the Google books partner program web page:

For in-copyright books scanned through the Library Project, users can preview only bibliographic information and a few short sentences of text around a search term, similar to what might be shown in a book review. Google Books never shows full pages of these books.”

The project also allows copyright holders to “opt out” of the program if they desire to.

A lot of authors and publishers complained about that project and Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers sued Google for “massive copyright infringement”. Google claimed the fair use defense. After several years of negotiation, Google and the authors and publishers signed a $125 millions settlement with the ambition for Google to create a universal digital libraries.

A lot of Professors, authors and competitors such as Amazon or Microsoft firmly criticized the settlement and more specifically argued that this will give Google a potential monopoly of the largest digital library in the world. Their second concern was that Google would have received the profits of a lot of orphan works.

In March 2011, Judge Denny Chin rejected the Google books settlement and required among other things that the copyright owners should “opt in” for the settlement instead of the previous “opt out” choice, meaning that each copyright owner or publisher should individually sign an agreement with Google. Following this ruling, the parties are still negotiating and have not yet reached a new settlement.

In France however, the Syndicat National de l’Edition (SNE – publishers) and the Gens de Lettres (SGDL- authors’ group) ended a 6 years lawsuit against Google a few days ago and signed an “opt-in” agreement. These groups filed a complaint on June 5th, 2006 against Google alleging copyright infringement. The Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris (Paris District Court) ruled in favor of the publishers in December 2009 and Google appealed against that decision.

In 2010 and 2011, Google signed two separate agreements with Hachette and La Martiniere (who both joined the publishers in their lawsuit). According to these agreements, the publishers will have the control over the books to be scanned by Google. Indeed, they will provide Google with the list of out of print works but still protected under copyright law they wish to be scanned and available online. The books can also be available on Google ebooks for sale with a share of revenues.

A few days ago, Google reached another agreement with the SGDL and the SNE. The French publishers agreed on the “opt-in” choice, which means that each publisher will have to sign the agreement with Google if they want to be part of the Google books project. As negotiated in the previous agreements with Hachette and La Martiniere, the publishers will retain control over ther works and provide their lists of works available for scanning to Google and potentially share revenues with Google ebooks if sales are made.

Google also offered a large financial support to SGDL to develop its works database and contribute to a SNE’s project called “les petits champions de la lecture chez les jeunes” aiming at encouraging the young crowd to read more.

The head of Google Books France recently explained why this cooperation was very important for France. We can read his statement in The New York Times :

“‘Our hope is that these path-breaking partnerships will help jump-start the emerging French electronic book market’… While ebook sales have surged in the United States, they have been held back in France, and across much of Europe…”

So now that France dropped her lawsuit against Google and signed an agreement, it is legitimate to ask, “When can we expect the end of a never ending settlement between Google Books and the US?”



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