French minister wants Europe to take on Google

PARIS (Reuters) - European Union members want to create a joint project on the digitization of books, French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand said, challenging Google’s plan to create a massive digital library.

A photo of the Google Inc. logo is shown on a computer screen in San Francisco, California July 16, 2009. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

EU ministers agreed in Brussels on Friday to create a committee of “wise men” to carve out a plan, Mitterrand said in an interview with French newspaper Journal du Dimanche due to be published on Saturday.

He also said the digitization of books should not be left to private companies, and governments had to come up with appropriate policies.

“The committee will be asked to bring together national views and draw up a joint position,” he told the newspaper.

Google’s plan to scan millions of books and post extracts online 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 on antitrust, copyright and privacy grounds.

Asked whether the ministers were in favor of the Google settlement, Mitterrand said he could not comment for the moment.

“For my part, there isn’t any anti-Americanism. Nevertheless, I believe America isn’t a monolith, and different opinions must be expressed. That’s why I don’t want the State to surrender before the markets,” he said.

“It’s not up to this or that private group to decide policy on an issue as important as the digitization of our global heritage. I’m not going to leave this decision up to simple laissez-faire,” he added.

He said that European, an EU platform for digitized books, archives and images, should play a more important role in the future and that ministers wanted to improve its funding.

French publishers have accused Google of exploiting their country’s literary heritage and in September asked a Paris court to fine the Internet firm if it continues to digitize their books. The tribunal expects to reach a decision by December 18.

Reporting by Sophie Hardach; Editing by Charles Dick