French court finds Google guilty over copyright

A French court has become the first to find Google guilty of violating copyright by digitising books and putting extracts online, following a legal challenge by French publisher La Martiniere.

La Martiniere, the world’s first publisher to take Google to court over its book scanning programme, was backed by French publishers association (SNE) and the French Writers Union (SGDL). It had demanded €15m in damages. However, Reuters reports that the court ordered Google to pay just €300,000 in damages and interest and to stop digital reproduction of the material.

"Even if we can't undo the process of digitalisation, this means they cannot use any of the digitised material any more," Yann Colin, lawyer for La Martiniere told Reuters.

The SNE and the SGDL welcomed the ruling and said in a joint statement that it opened "new perspectives", as it applied to all French publishers and authors whose books had been digitised and posted online without permission. The French case "was alone in defending authors’ rights against the internet giant", said the two organisations, who were each awarded a symbolic euro. Hervé de la Martinière, chairman and chief executive of La Martinière group, is due to comment on 21st December on the court ruling.

Google has now said it will appeal.

Robin Fry, partner for law firm Beachcroft, said: "As in France, our 'fair use' laws don't allow digitisation of books unless the publishers (and often the authors) specifically consent. Google operates an act-now, negotiate-later attitude which has worked for its other services such as Google Images (where reproduction of the thumbnail images invariably infringes copyright). But this is a high-risk strategy in countries like France which has very high regard for authors' rights. The same battle is yet to be fought in Britain."