A Paris court on Friday found U.S. Internet giant Google guilty of violating copyright by digitizing books and putting extracts online, following a legal challenge by major French publishers.
The court found against Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) after the La Martiniere group, which controls the highbrow Editions du Seuil publishing house, argued that publishers and authors were losing out in the latest stage of the digital revolution.
It ordered Google to pay 300,000 euros ($431,700) in damages and interest and to stop digital reproduction of the material.
La Martiniere, the French Publishers’ Association and authors’ groups SGDL had argued that scanning books was an act of reproduction that should be paid for and had demanded the U.S. company be fined 15 million euros.
They accused Google of scanning the books free of charge, letting users browse the content for free, reaping revenues from advertisers but not adequately compensating the creators and original publishers of the works.
“Even if we can’t undo the process of digitalization, this means they cannot use any of the digitized material any more,” Yann Colin, lawyer for La Martiniere told Reuters.
He said that even if Google decided to appeal, the ruling would be enforced immediately.
As electronic readers gain popularity and online libraries expand, companies and governments are keen to learn from the mistakes that the film and music businesses made when their content moved online.
French politicians including President Nicolas Sarkozy have been particularly vocal, pushing for a broader public digitization program that would be partly funded through a big national loan.
Google has so far scanned 10 million books through partnerships with libraries in its ambitious project to put the world’s literature online. It displays searchable snippets of books in copyright and whole texts of out-of-copyright works.
Google has been praised for increasing access to books and breathing new life into out-of-print works but has attracted criticism and more than one lawsuit for scanning books that are still in copyright without permission from the rights holders.
It recently reached a settlement in the United States after lengthy negotiations with authors and publishers led by the U.S. Authors Guild who had sued Google for copyright infringement.
The settlement, which includes measures to track down and compensate authors, only covers books published in North America, Britain and Australia, and any books registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. It still has to be approved by a U.S. court before it comes into force.