(CN) – A deal with France’s largest publisher has given hope to Google’s e-book library project, which has faced daunting legal hurdles since its inception in 2004.
The agreement, signed by Hachette Livre and Google last week, will digitalize tens of thousands of French-language titles, including out-of-print books.
Google hopes to sell books through a French version of its digital bookstore, Google Editions, by the end of the year.
Though Google’s digitalization project has been around since 2004, the company waited another six years to announce plans for an e-book store and way to sell books directly.
The concept has faced legal challenges from authors and publishers both in the United States and abroad.
Last March, a New York federal judge struck down a deal involving the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers that would have settled their longstanding suit against Google.
Under that deal, Google would have paid $34.5 million to set up a Book Rights Registry. A settlement fund of at least another $45 million would pay copyright holders whose books had been scanned before creation of the registry.
But U.S. District Judge Denny Chin worried that the deal would give Google a monopoly and infringe on the rights of individual authors. Chin called the failed U.S. deal “a forward-looking business arrangement that would grant Google significant rights to exploit entire books, without permission of the copyright owners.”
If no revised deal is submitted by Sept. 15, Google will have to go back to the drawing board with the American publishing agencies.
Unlike the U.S. deal, Hachette retains control over the books scanned and sold through Google. The American deal had required authors or publishers to opt out, rather than opt in.
Opt-in agreements, like the Hachette deal, prevent Google from acquiring rights to “orphan books” whose copyright owners are unknown or cannot be found. Digitalizing these books has been a major objective of the Google Books project.
Whether the Hachette deal will serve as a model for others remains to be seen. Currently, French publishers Albin Michel, Flammarion and Gallimard are suing Google for illegally scanning their books.
Since the project began in 2004, Google has reported scanning more than 15 million books from more than 35,000 publishers.
Google’s top priority throughout the project has been finding ways to offer out-of-print books that are still under copyright. The vast majority of the world’s books fall into this category.
Hachette is a subsidiary of media conglomerate Lagardère, and represents about one-quarter of the country’s book market.