A court in France has ruled that Google infringed the copyright of the publisher La Martiniere group by digitizing books and making them searchable online.
The court ordered Google to pay around $430,000 and to stop displaying excerpts from the books in its search results. Google says it will appeal the ruling.
"We believe that displaying a limited number of short extracts from books complies with copyright legislation both in France and the U.S. -- and improves access to books," Google said in a statement. "If readers are able to search and find books, they're more likely to buy and read them."
In the U.S., Google's book digitization initiative resulted in a class-action lawsuit by publishers and authors that is still pending before U.S. District Court Judge Denny Chin in New York. The parties reached a controversial settlement last year, but Chin has not yet approved the agreement.
The proposed $125 million deal calls for Google to fund a new book rights registry and sell downloads of books at prices that it sets with the registry. The pact drew a host of objections from consumer advocates, rival Web companies and the Department of Justice, which argued that the deal raised anticompetitive concerns. The largest potential problem is that the deal would allow Google to digitize orphan works, or books under copyright whose owner is unknown. Other potential booksellers, like Amazon, would still risk litigation for selling such books.
The French ruling should not affect whether the U.S. deal goes through, because the most recent version of that agreement only covers books registered in the U.S. or published in Canada, the U.K. or Australia.
If Chin approves the settlement, the question of whether scanning and indexing books violates copyright will remain unsettled in the U.S. But even some critics of the proposed U.S. deal, like New York Law School professor James Grimmelmann -- who is concerned about the agreement's orphan works terms -- holds that simply making books searchable should be considered a fair use.
Grimmelmann argues that simply scanning and indexing books doesn't harm content owners and can help the public at large. "Making books searchable is such an enormous benefit to humanity that it's scandalous to let copyright owners hold it up," Grimmelmann says. "It is and should be infringement if Google were to sell whole books without permission, but they've never claimed the right to do that."