Paris court rules against Google in book copyright case

Google's book search project suffered a legal setback in Paris on Friday, as a court ordered it to pay €300,000 (US$432,000) in damages for breach of copyright, and to stop distributing digital copies of French books to French Internet users without the permission of their publishers.

For each day that the books remain accessible online without permission, Google must pay a further €10,000, the court ruled.

French publisher La Martinière Groupe filed suit against Google in June 2006, and was later joined in its case by the French Publishers Association (FPA), representing 400 publishing companies. The FPA will be disappointed by the size of the financial penalty: It had asked the court for €500,000 per day.

The search giant is studying the details of the ruling and plans to appeal, said Philippe Colombet, Strategic Partner Development Manager for Google Books, in a conference call with journalists.

"We regret the court's decision, as it means that French Internet users will have access to less content than Internet users in other countries," he said.

He declined to say whether Google intended to pay the daily fine rather than remove La Martinière's books from its database.

Google has scanned 10 million books, more than half of them in languages other than English.

Of those, Colombet said, 1.5 million are in the public domain and 2 million have been scanned with the permission of the publisher. The rest are from the collections of U.S. libraries with which Google has partnerships, scanned without the permission of the rights holders, and so Google only displays short extracts in response to search queries, he said.

He couldn't say how many books were affected by Friday's ruling, nor what immediate effect the judgment will have on Google Books France.

Recently published French books warn, underneath their copyright notice, that photocopying of all or part of the book for group use is forbidden, and that "all other forms of reproduction, in whole or in part, is also forbidden without the permission of the publisher."

Yet, said Colombet, "We think that indexing and displaying a book in order to make it easier to buy and search is allowed under French copyright law."

La Martinière Groupe CEO Hervé de La Martiniere was very happy with the court's decision, his spokeswoman Tessa Destais said via e-mail. "It's a great victory for authors' right to create, and for the protection of authors and publishers," she wrote.

Google has faced similar lawsuits elsewhere and is attempting to reach agreement with authors in the U.S. over its scanning of books there. On Nov. 13, with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers, it submitted its latest draft to the court of a proposal it hopes will settle a 2005 class-action lawsuit. Opponents of that deal say it gives Google an unfair advantage in the nascent market for digital reproductions of books.

Friday's ruling in Paris "has no effect on the U.S. settlement, because it only concerns the books of Groupe La Martinière," said Colombet.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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