In the first major overseas legal challenge to its massive book-scanning project, Google’s French division was hit last week with a copyright infringement lawsuit. Publishing group La Martinière, backed by the editors association Syndicat national de l’édition (SNE) and the writers union Société des gens de lettres (SGDL), is asking a Paris court to force the Internet giant to halt its digitization of protected works and to levy a fine of eighteen million euros (about $26 million) as well as a per diem fine of one hundred thousand euros ($146,000).
Yann Colin, an attorney for La Martinière, called Google’s advertising profits “parasitic” because they derive from sponsored links that rely on material the Internet company itself does not own. “It’s an anarchic way of brutally stockpiling French heritage,” Reuters quoted him as saying. La Martinière claims that between six and nine thousand of its books have been illegally scanned by Google, while the SNE estimates that Google’s database includes about a hundred thousand titles still protected by copyright law in France. The complainants rejected the argument that French courts lack jurisdiction on the matter because the books were digitized in the United States. “The act of digitizing is to copy,” Colin told the tribunal. “It is a considerable harm because it is irreversible. How can you take back what is made electronic?”
Lawyers for Google countered that the company was creating a search service rather than a stockpile, and said that French publishers had not proved ownership of electronic distribution rights. “What Google is doing is absolutely legal,” attorney Alexandra Neri told the court. “To assert counterfeiting, you have to show you hold the rights. We don’t deny that [La Martinière imprint] Éditions du Seuil holds the rights to distribution on paper. But they have never shown that they hold the right to electronic copies.”
The French court is expected to reconvene for its decision on December 18.
A federal judge in New York City granted a request last Thursday from the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers to postpone a hearing on the Google Book Search settlement. The “fairness hearing” originally scheduled for October 7 will now be replaced with a “status conference,” as the parties involved scramble to rework the $125 million agreement. An antitrust report issued three weeks ago by the Department of Justice recommended that the existing deal—which has come under fire from nonprofits, states, and even foreign governments—be rejected, citing concerns with “fundamental copyright principles” and the potential for “diplomatic stress.” Noting the various objections, U.S. District Court judge Denny Chin wrote that “it makes no sense to conduct a hearing on the fairness and reasonableness of the current settlement agreement, as it does not appear the current settlement will be the operative one.”