Google: On en Parlera: French Publisher Sues Google Book Search

Article ImageControversy trails Google Book Search wherever it goes. The latest bout of trouble comes from France. La Martinière Groupe, an international French publisher, filed a suit in early June against both Google, Inc. and Google France on behalf of three of its publishing houses, Le Seuil (France), Delachaux et Niestlé (Switzerland), and Abrams (The United States). La Martinière claims Google has disregarded intellectual property rights and has produced counterfeits of its books on the Book Search site.

Speaking on behalf of La Martinière Groupe, Tessa Destais, adviser to the company's president, explained the motivation behind the suit, saying, "French and EU legislation does not allow a third party to use a copyrighted product. Google Book Search has also misrepresented La Martinière books by making a sentence available here and there and taken out of context. It's not very fair to the books, the authors, or the publisher." For La Martinière, Google's most serious offense is that the company "has put our business strategy in danger and violated our business freedom."

Google, of course, sees things differently. Philippe Etienne, in charge of communications for Google Book Search France, finds the situation "unfortunate and unnecessary. All a publisher needs to do is indicate the points it disagrees with. Publishers who wish to be excluded are excluded." A number of French publishers have chosen this route. But, La Martinière claims that "Google sent them a letter after the fact and wasn't open to discussion. Google decides what it wants to do and does it."

Google Book Search places itself firmly on the side of publishers and authors. In the Google worldview, offering books to a wider audience is profitable for everyone involved. Etienne explains the Book Search set up. "There are two facets, partnerships with publishers and partnerships with libraries," he says. "Publisher partnerships allow for multiple pages to be viewed, whereas library partnerships allow for either total access, for books in the public domain, or access to only a few citations, for books still under copyright." Etienne believes La Martinière is confusing the two types of partnerships.

This all boils down to how a company interprets copyright law. "Google doesn't see itself as copying anything," Lee Bromberg, founding partner of the Boston-based firm Bromberg & Sunstein, says. "But, the contrary argument is that in order to make a work searchable, an electronic copy has to be made." Bromberg agrees with the latter viewpoint. "Google should get the copyright holder's permission," he says.

Google's Book Search troubles in France may not be over yet. The National Publishers Union (le Syndicat national de l'Edition) has officially taken La Martinière's side in this debate. The EU has also launched a virtual library project that is a clear response to Google Book Search. Google can take some comfort in the fact that this project is also encountering difficulties.

However, despite all the lawsuits and controversy, "La Martinière doesn't want Google to disappear," says Destais. "Google's a nice company and La Martinière is open to all discussion."