by: Eric Pfanner
PARIS — France has caused plenty of headaches for Google. Its politicians have denounced the U.S. Internet giant as a cultural imperialist; its publishers have called it a copyright cheat.
Yet France is suddenly the only country in the world in which Google has managed to achieve a longstanding business goal. A few days ago Google signed an agreement with the publisher Hachette Livre under which tens of thousands of French-language books will be pulled out of ink-on-paper purgatory and provided with a digital afterlife.
Hachette and Google reached a preliminary deal last year, but it was overshadowed by a far broader agreement between Google and U.S. authors and publishers that would have settled longstanding litigation. Like the deal with Hachette, the U.S. agreement involved books that were out of print but still protected by copyright, a category that accounts for the vast majority of the world’s books.
But last winter, a U.S. judge, Denny Chin, rejected the American settlement, and talks have stalled since. Meanwhile, with a final agreement in place in France, Google says it intends to start selling e-book versions of the Hachette titles by the end of the year, when it introduces a French version of its digital bookstore, Google Editions.
The deal with Hachette, which is part of the media conglomerate Lagardère, does not end Google’s problems with French publishers. At least three of them, Albin Michel, Flammarion and Gallimard, are pursuing lawsuits against the company, saying it illegally scanned their books. Another publisher, La Martinière, previously won a similar court case against Google.
Yet Google and Hachette, the biggest French publisher, with about one-quarter of the French market, said they hoped their deal could serve as a model for a broader rapprochement.
“We would love to implement similar arrangements with other French publishers, and it’s something that we have in mind as we talk to other partners,” said Simon Morrison, copyright policy and communications manager at Google in London.
Hachette said it would make digital copies of scanned books available to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and other libraries, “thus contributing to the advancement of French culture,” as the company put it in a statement.
Could the agreement end up showing the way forward in the negotiations on a revised U.S. deal?
There are several key differences between the French accord and the U.S. proposal that Judge Chin rejected. One is that Hachette retains control of which books can be scanned and sold by Google, just as it does with copyrighted works that remain in print. Under the U.S. proposal, Google would have been free to digitize any out-of-print books, unless the copyright holders expressly opted out of the settlement.
In a hearing in New York last month, Judge Chin asked representatives of Google, the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild whether it might be possible to negotiate a so-called opt-in agreement — in other words, along the lines of the Hachette deal. Both sides were noncommittal, according to news reports of the hearing.
Until now, Google has steadfastly resisted switching to an opt-in system in the U.S. talks. Doing so would be a big setback for a company that says its mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Some authors or publishers would opt out. So-called orphan works, those whose copyright holders cannot be clearly identified or tracked down, might never make it into the digital future.
Judge Chin has given Google, the publishers and the authors until Sept. 15 to come up with a revised deal. If nothing is settled by then, the litigation that prompted the talks is set to restart, six years after the authors and publishers originally sued Google.
Meanwhile, the French digital book business, which so far has trailed far behind the United States, with e-book sales still in their infancy, is about to pull ahead in one small but significant way.
from: NY Times