March 3, 2021

Google Reaches Deal With 2nd French Publisher

PARIS — A second French publisher has reached a deal on digital books with Google to settle a copyright lawsuit in exchange for control over how its out-of-print, copyright-protected works are scanned and sold.

Such works account for the vast majority of the world’s books, and they are central to Google’s ambitions of creating a universal digital information repository. But its digitization project has prompted numerous lawsuits by publishers seeking to enforce their copyrights.

On Thursday, the French publisher La Martinière said that it had agreed to split revenue from digital sales of these books with Google. The accord comes after a similar agreement between Google and Hachette Livre, the largest French publisher.

In 2009, La Martinière won a ruling against Google in a Paris court that awarded the publisher 300,000 euros ($420,000), and ordered Google to stop scanning its books. Google appealed that decision, but the two companies said Thursday that they had agreed to end the litigation.

Philippe Colombet, director of Google Books in France, said that the deal would allow the company to move forward “in a constructive fashion, to the benefit of French authors and readers.”

“This collaboration is an important step in our relations with French publishers and contributes to the preservation and the flourishing of French culture,” he said in a statement.

The settlement comes as Google struggles to reach an agreement with United States publishers and authors on out-of-print, copyright-protected works. Last winter, the judge overseeing the case, Denny Chin, rejected a settlement proposal that had already been revised, and talks have bogged down since then.

Like the Hachette deal, the agreement with La Martinière is different from the proposed settlement in the United States that Judge Chin rejected in at least one important way: it lets the publisher choose which works can be scanned or sold. Under the American proposal, Google was free to digitize and sell any works unless the copyright holders opted out.

“This agreement is very important, it seems to me, because it reaffirms respect for authors and, more broadly, for intellectual property,” said Hervé de la Martinière, president of the publishing house. Google had said it hoped that the Hachette deal would be a model for other agreements with European publishers. But it still faces a lawsuit by three French publishers, Albin Michel, Flammarion and Gallimard, that say that Google scanned thousands of their works without permission.

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