Google and French publishers and authors have officially ended six years of legal wrangles with the announcement of a framework agreement for the US search engine to index and sell scanned out-of-print French books with prior permission.
The blueprint will clear the way for other houses to follow the example of Hachette Livre and Le Seuil-La Martinière, which signed digitisation pacts with the US business in 2010 and 2011.
Referring to a "cultural revolution", French Publishers Association (Syndicat National de l'Edition, SNE) president Antoine Gallimard said the agreement "guarantees respect of authors' rights", but that publishers would "remain vigilant".
They will be free to sign up or not and to "withdraw or authorise titles for preview or for sale," said Philippe Colombet, strategic partner development manager of Google Books for France. Revenues will be shared, with the majority going to publishers. How big a majority will depend on individual negotiations, he added.
Both the SNE and the French Authors Society (Société des Gens de Lettres, SGDL) are scrapping their lawsuits against Google. Albin Michel, Flammarion and Gallimard dropped their charges last September to permit Google and the SNE to resume negotiations. A parallel agreement for Google to finance the SGDL's creation of a database of authors and rightsholders was also announced today.
The content of the blueprint was not disclosed, but it allows "various" distribution options for scanned books, provided they are not "direct competitors", Colombet said. The sale of electronic versions of books still in print would be sold through Google Play, which has not yet been launched in France.
The agreement comes several weeks before publication of the application decree for a French law that was adopted early this year to lay down the rules for scanning and selling orphan and other out-of-print 20th-century works in the French National Library catalogue.
Google, which has scanned a total of 20 million books under different schemes since 2004, estimates that 75% of the world's books are out-of-print and unavailable and that "an important share" of them was published in the 20th century.
Google will also sponsor an SNE program called Young Reading Champions that will promote reading among 10-11-year-olds and will be launched at the beginning of the next school year in September.
"Our hope is that these path-breaking partnerships will help jumpstart the emerging French electronic book market," Colombet said. "[They put] France in the pole position as a pioneer." The aim is to negotiate similar deals in other countries, he added.
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