France planning Google Books rival

Culture minister says France is eyeing an alternative to Google Books that would offer French citizens an online portal of scanned Gallic books and other documents.

After tangling with Google Books over copyright issues, France is hoping to create its own version of the book-scanning service.

Frederic Mitterrand, France's culture minister, announced Tuesday that his country is planning a new French-based online portal to offer its citizens scanned versions of Gallic books and other documents.

The service would initially tap into an existing database called Gallica, which is run by the country's national library and currently is home to under a million documents. But Mitterrand aims to build the online collection by striking deals with French publishers in order to incorporate their books and content.

Prompted by a government-commissioned report (translation via Google) on Google's effect on French publishing, the Gallica service will initially receive funding from the French government. But it hopes to stay afloat and generate cash through online advertisements. And though the service may be seen as a rival to Google Books, the minister held out the possibility of working with Google to build up France's collection, perhaps by swapping scanned books between the two services.

Google

But France's relationship with Google has been a thorny one, especially because the company has struck deals in the past with certain French publishers to the apparent dismay of the culture minister. In an interview on Tuesday with France's daily paper Le Monde (translation via Google), Mitterrand spoke about plans for the new online service and took a few jabs at Google as well.

"Google came to Europe as a conqueror, and many (publishers) have opened the door by signing agreements that I find unacceptable," the minister told Le Monde. "They are based on excessive confidentiality, impossible exclusivity, and a casual, even one-sided approach to copyright."

Yet Mitterand also talked about his desire to forge a new relationship with Google, proposing the exchange of files and acknowledged that he'd rather not do without Google. Still, he questioned the company's commitment to French culture.

Copyright issues have gotten Google in hot water with France, which recently won a lawsuit against the search giant. But France is hardly alone. Groups in other countries have filed suits against Google amid complaints that it has scanned book excerpts without properly compensating the publishers or authors.

Hoping to avoid the same conflicts that Google has faced, the French Gallica service will let publishers decide how much of their material they will allow online.

The government-commissioned report and new service were spurred by concerns that Google had held discussions with France's National Library over a book-scanning project. The news triggered fears in the French government, given Google's reputation in the country and a controversial deal the company had already struck with the Library of Lyon.

Mitterand is scheduled to meet with Google in the U.S. in March to discuss a possible exchange and is planning to stress the need to respect the rights of publishers and authors.

About the author

Journalist, software trainer, and Web developer Lance Whitney writes columns and reviews for CNET, Computer Shopper, Microsoft TechNet, and other technology sites. His first book, "Windows 8 Five Minutes at a Time," was published by Wiley & Sons in November 2012.

 

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