Google announces digital book venture in France

Google (s goog) said it has reached a deal with French authors and publishers to sell digital copies of out of print books. The deal ends a six year legal dispute and could make France the first country to implement a comprehensive national strategy for digitizing its literary output.
Google announced the deal this morning on its European Public Policy Blog, saying the deal allowed for “cutting edge partnerships” and the end  of “a debilitating dispute over digitisation.” The arrangement will see members of the French Publishers Association promoting and selling books that Google has scanned.
Google said the new deal is not directly tied to a law passed by France this spring that creates a new royalty collection mechanism for out-of-print works that will be owned in part by the state and managed in part by the Bibliothèque nationale. But the company added the law is accelerating efforts to put digital copies of the publishers’ books into circulation.
The new joint venture is also significant because it has the support of the French Author’s Association. Google says, under the terms of the deal, it will fund a program to encourage young people to read and to help authors establish a database of published writers. The move may be an effort to assuage hundreds of French authors who had objected to the law passed by France this spring..
In the bigger picture, the French deal is significant because it appears to be the most comprehensive national effort to date to address the digitization of books. While the United States has a flourishing market for new e-books, the digital fate of millions of older books are in limbo after a federal court rejected the Google Books Settlement in 2010. The settlement was an ambitious three-way deal between Google, publishers and the Authors Guild to sell out-of-print books online.
As a result of the settlement’s collapse, millions of books scanned by Google remain unavailable while the company and the Authors Guild squabble in court. In the meantime, Harvard Librarian Robert Darnton and others are calling for the creation of “a digital library of America.”
Update:  ActuaLitté, a worthy site for French publishing news, attended a press conference related to today’s event and offers these details:

  • The arrangement will cover the 600 publishers who belong to the French Publishers Association but other publishers may sign on
  • The process will start with Google and the publishers establishing a list to confirm a book is indeed out of print; a publisher will then decide on how to make the work available for sale or, if it chooses, to remove the book altogether
  • The books will be available in venues other than Google Play but it is unclear when (or if) retailers like Apple or Amazon can distribute them too
  • Frédéric Mitterrand, former culture Minister, said in December France will be a beachhead for Google into the rest of Europe.

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