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French publishers take Google to court for ‘forgery’

Published on 25/09/2009
Paris — French publishers and authors took Google to court Thursday, demanding compensation from the US Internet giant they accuse of counterfeiting their books by digitising them and posting them online.
Backed by France’s 530-member Publishers’ Association (SNE) and its SGDL Society of Authors, the plaintiffs are contesting Google’s 2005 campaign to digitize books without the prior authorisation of publishers or authors.
"There must be a heavy penalty," said a lawyer for one of the plaintiffs, who called for EUR 15 million (USD 22 million) in compensation and a fine of EUR 100,000 (USD 146,000) a day for every day Google continued its disputed practice.
Google’s lawyer responded by questioning the court’s competence to judge the matter, arguing that US law should apply.
The case was adjourned until 18 December.
France’s Seuil publishing house filed its suit accusing Google France and Google inc. of forgery back in June 2006 but had to wait until Thursday before the case finally reached a courtroom.
It reckons that up to 4,000 works published by the group have been digitized by Google without his consent.
The SNE estimates that about 100,000 French books that are still under copyright have been digitized by the Internet company.
Controversy over the 2005 Google Book Search plan has been particularly strong in France since the launch of talks in August between Google and France’s National Library, the BNF.
The BNF’s move to digitize its collections with Google’s help due to the huge cost of the process has triggered a storm of protest.
The French government this month slammed Google’s plan to create the world’s largest digital library and online bookstore.
It said it did not conform to either "intellectual property law or to competition law and constitutes a threat to cultural diversity."
Google France replied "our goal is to give fresh life to millions of books that are out of stock or difficult to find, while respecting authors’ copyright."
Thursday’s court case in Paris comes as Google and US authors and publishers agree to go back to the drawing board to revise a controversial legal settlement on the same issue.
The Justice Department raised a number of issues in opposing the settlement.
It said that at presently the settlement would give Google sole authority over so-called "orphan works", books whose copyright holder cannot be found, and books by foreign rights holders.
It also proposed setting up a mechanism by which Google’s competitors can gain comparable access to book collections.