France's Sarkozy takes on Google in books dispute

GEISPOLSHEIM, France Tue Dec 8, 2009 5:00pm EST

1 of 2. An employee rides her bike past a logo next to the main entrance of the Google building in Zurich July 9, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Christian Hartmann

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GEISPOLSHEIM, France (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Tuesday he would not let his country's literary heritage be taken away by a "friendly" large American company, in a thinly veiled challenge to Google

France is anxious to avoid French-language literature being swallowed by major international digitisation projects and is looking to create its own national digital champion.

"We won't let ourselves be stripped of our heritage to the benefit of a big company, no matter how friendly, big or American it is," Sarkozy said, without naming Google.

At a public round table meeting in eastern France, the president said digitisation of books would be one of the projects financed by a planned national loan, which is due to pump billions of euros into strategic investments in 2010.

"We are not going to be stripped of what generations and generations have produced in the French language, just because we weren't capable of funding our own digitisation project," he added.

Publishing is the latest creative industry to be jolted by the digital revolution, with Google planning a huge library of scanned books, electronic books becoming popular and governments struggling to keep up with rapid change in the private sector.

Google's book project is part of a settlement deal reached with the U.S. Authors Guild. The plan has been praised for bringing broad access to books but has also been criticized in some quarters on antitrust, copyright and privacy grounds.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon last month ordered a commission to look at how to prepare the publishing sector for a re-vamp, saying it was important to prevent the kind of damage from illegal downloads that hit the music and film industries.

In an open letter, Fillon listed several possible strategies starting with scanning the contents of Europe's libraries.

Other projects included applying Internet piracy laws to the publishing sector, asking publishers to propose ways of policing downloads, and developing the market for legal digital books.

Fillon said France would not accept another cultural industry being "threatened by looting."

France's government has proposed some of the world's strictest online piracy legislation, and in September parliament approved a law that will allow authorities to disconnect repeat illegal downloaders.

The government has also urged the European Union to agree on a massive digitisation project, effectively taking on Google.

It is not the first time, France has challenged Google.

In 2005, French and German leaders announced to much fanfare that they would work together to develop a multimedia search engine dubbed Quaero (Latin for "I Search") that many saw as a direct attack on Google. The project failed for lack of funds.

(Writing by Sophie Hardach, editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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Comments (4)
Blakat wrote:
As far as I’m concerned the only important thing is that books become available to whoever reads them. As long as the authors of the books are paid for their work, it should be fine – whether the publications are digital or in book form, who cares? I couldn’t give a hoot who facilitates it as long as it’s done.

As far as I’m concerned – go Google go!!!!

Dec 08, 2009 7:03pm EST  --  Report as abuse
maks25 wrote:
I can understand Sarkozys point of view. France has a long and proud history of celebrated literary works, and Sarkozy wants her to be the sole distributor of them. He wants people to remember where it came from.

But he is missing the ultimate goal of the project itself. It is to make books easily available to anybody, no matter who distributes them.

Dec 09, 2009 12:22am EST  --  Report as abuse
krisgalea wrote:
Like maks25 I completely understand Sarkozy’s point of view. A view I’m sure is shared by most of the nation.

There are better solutions than challenging Google. This solution,seems to be a head-on attack rather than taking constructive approach. Solving the issue could be as simple as France working with Google in creating a more controlled environment, or even appealing to the EU in a conjoined effort in creating an adequate environment where books can be published.

Ultimately, the objective is for freedom of information. Google has taken it into its (capable) hands to undertake such feat. Google is simply doing what France previously was unable to do.

So far, I can see nothing wrong with that.

Dec 09, 2009 2:57am EST  --  Report as abuse
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