Tuesday 12 June 2012

Some French fresh air to the Google Books project

Fans of the Google Book Search Project were perhaps left a bit disappointed when last year Judge Denny Chin rejected the US Search Settlement Agreement, which Google had concluded in 2008 with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers. The Judge urged, among the other things, that the settlement be revised from opt-out to opt-in. Following the ruling, the parties started new negotiations, but an agreement has not been achieved yet.
Contrary to the situation in the US, yesterday the Syndicat National de l'Edition (SNE, the French Publishers Association) and the Société des Gens de Lettres (an authors' group) put an end to a six year long running litigation against Google, over its project of digitising out-of-print books (see press coverage of the litigation here and here).
As clarified by The Wall Street Journal, this is the last lawsuit to be dropped, as last year other publishers settled their own cases.
The parties, reports The Financial Times, concluded a framework agreement under which French publishers can strike their commercial arrangements individually with Google, which will exchange information with publishers instead of scanning French books without consent. As explained by Monsieur Gallimard, SNE's chief executive, this means that "now it’s up to every publisher to decide if they want or not, to sign a framework agreement with Google in line with copyright laws" [the agreement is therefore opt-in]
According to The New York Times, the settlement achieved yesterday is modelled on previous agreements that Google concluded separately with French publishers Hachette Livre and La Martinière. In particular, these agreements allowed publishers to retain control over many conditions of the book-scanning project, including which titles were to be made available. 
In the framework of the deal struck yesterday, French publishers and authors will be able to sell digital copies of the books Google has scanned so far, with Google enjoying a share of the revenues. 
Young French publishers celebrate the settlement 
Apparently, to make all this possible, Google "coughed up an undisclosed amount of cash to sweeten the deal" and, as part of the agreement, it "will financially support the creation of a database of works for authors and rights owners, as well as a youth-reading program", explains The Wall Street Journal.
As declared by the head of Google Books France, Monsieur Philippe Colombet, "our hope is that these pathbreaking partnerships will help jump-start the emerging French electronic book market". Apparently, the EU market for ebooks has been held back, among the other things, by disputes over rights, explains The New York Times.
Although this agreement will "put France ahead of the rest of the world in bringing long lost out-of-print works back to life”, Google clarified that yesterday's settlement is not going to affect the outcome of the ongoing US litigation. However, there is hope that this may add positive momentum to the Google Books project in general. This is because, said Monsieur Colombet, "Google is open to a variety of agreement options in the US, including deals like this one".
Overall, this outcome is to be welcomed. Indeed, these are exciting (or worrisome, depending on the perspective one wishes to adopt) times for the book industry. In any case, it is time for a change. Business models are evolving and the chances offered by digitisation of contents are not to be missed. It seems that attention of both private parties and legislators (just think of the ever-growing interest in orphan works and out-of-print books, on which see earlier 1709 Blog post here) is now directed at understanding how these opportunities can be seized. This requires a bit of courage and – at the end of the day - a Non, je ne regrette rien-like attitude.

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