French Publishers Join Google Book Search Suit

An association representing 400 French book publishers has joined La Martiniere Groupe in its lawsuit to stop Google from digitizing books for its Google Book Search service.

La Martiniere filed suit against Google and its French subsidiary in a French court on June 6, accusing the search engine of counterfeiting. It asked the court to stop the search engine from scanning its books, and demanded 1 million euros (US$1.3 million) in damages. The publisher said Google had illegally copied at least 100 of its copyright works and included them in its Google Book Search without permission.

"The French Publishers’ Association is intervening alongside La Martiniere Groupe ... to defend the interests of the profession," the association said in a statement last week.

The association said that Google had digitized, in addition to works in the public domain, a number of protected works, and had allowed access to multiple extracts from these works through its search engine Google Book Search without the permission of the rights holders, with no regard for the fundamental rules of the law of intellectual property.

Google Book Search allows readers to find citations in the books that Google has scanned.

Scanned books come from two sources: publishers that have granted permission to scan their works, and libraries that have invited Google to scan their collections. Some of the books provided by libraries are old enough that they are now in the public domain, but others are still covered by copyright.

Google considers that the way it provides short extracts of copyright works in search results is allowed under French and European copyright law, it said in a statement.

One of the issues at stake is the way Google presents the search results. They are shown graphically as a ragged-edged piece of paper, as if torn from a book.

That angers the French publishers because it portrays their work as just one step away from the trash can, said Tessa Destais, a spokeswoman for La Martiniere.

"We know that Google is powerful, but they have to show some respect for books," she said Monday.

Google spokesman Philippe Etienne said the company is aware of this criticism. However, Google Book Search is still a beta version, and many aspects of the service have yet to be perfected, he said.

La Martiniere’s Destais expects the court to begin its action before the end of the year.

The company is currently embroiled in legal action in Belgium, where newspaper publishers are disputing the way it uses headlines from the news stories they publish online in its Google News search service.

-Peter Sayer, IDG News Service (Paris Bureau)

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