Google scans French literature for Book Search support

Google's plan to digitize all the world's books and put them online in searchable form has upset authors and publishers on both sides of the Atlantic

Google Inc.'s country manager for France, Mats Carduner, won little support for his company's Book Search project from the French literary establishment on Friday.

Carduner took part in a panel debate during the Salon du Livre, the annual Paris literary fair, where Google also has a booth.

Google's plan to digitize all the world's books and put them online in searchable form has upset authors and publishers on both sides of the Atlantic. What particularly angers them is the "opt-out" nature of the project: Google intends to scan all the books held by its library partners. Only if the author or publisher of a scanned book complains will Google remove it from the database. This, say the authors and publishers, is a breach of their rights. They think Google should ask first.

With Book Search, Google already allows users to see parts of French books it has scanned, but "it's for the U.S. project, and we're only showing short citations," Carduner said, adding that the company respected authors' rights.

That statement incensed Agnès Saal, director of France's National Library, watching from the audience. Leaping to her feet, she told Carduner that in France, "Scanning is the same as making a pirated copy. The distinction you're making makes no sense."

Another panelist, U.K. Publishers' Association President Richard Charkin, called on Google to opt out of opt-out.

"Please stop digitizing in-copyright books without permission. It does no good, and can only slow down the program," he said.

Down on the show floor, Google's booth was at the unfashionable end of the hall, tucked away by the toilets.

Staff there wouldn't say how many French publishers have given Google permission to scan their books, simply repeating a statistic given by Carduner: that French is the third-most used language on Google Book Search, after English and Spanish.

Google has at least one supporter in the form of Michel Valensi, founder of publishing company Editions de l'Eclat, who boasts of being the first French publisher to sign up for Google's partner program. Partners' books are searched in the same way, but a whole page of the book is displayed, rather than just a fragment, with links to online stores carrying the book.

Google has scanned 100 of Eclat's books, which have been searched 60,000 times leading directly to 600 online sales, Valensi said.

The Google deal is just an extension of what Valensi has been doing since 2000, though, when he published the first free, online edition of a book he was also selling on paper -- a French translation of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola's 15th century text "Oration on the Dignity of Man." In the previous six years, Valensi said, he had sold just 1,500 copies of the book, but in the six years since he began giving it away online, he has also sold 6,000 paper copies. Now, his company's Web site at links to about 35 such books, and in time he hopes to offer the whole catalog this way.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.