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German publishers take Google to court

12 June 2006

The latest news from Germany is that the Borsenverein (the book trade association) is supporting one large German publishing group in taking Google to court. On 28 June the district court of Hamburg will decide whether to impose an injunction preventing Google digitising content from any of the company's books. In the meantime the Borsenverein is developing its own digital warehouse to enable publishers to house and control their own digital content, in direct competition to Google. Revenue will go to the publishers, although retailers will be able to use content from the site to set up their own sales operations.

In France publishers seem more divided in their response to Google, although intellectual property lawyer Emmanuel Pierrat, who represents 10 French publishers, threatened Google with legal action if they did not withdraw his clients' texts from its database. Google complied. Gallimard is still pressing Google to remove all 300 titles it has digitised. The publisher's legal director Brice Amor said: 'We reject the opt-put policy, which amounts to forgery by default.'

It's clear however that Google might be winning the war of words. In a thoughtful contribution to the online debate, Karen Christensen, CEO of Berkshire Publishing Group, says that Google is successfully appealing to people's values. She points out that: 'The American Association of Publishers call Google's plans 'utopian (instead of, one might suggest, disingenuous and incomplete) and then, in the first paragraph, refer to the "limitations dictated by countervailing public interests, such as the right to privacy, security considerations, and the ability to own property."

'They sound just like the Democrats. Stiff, abstract language and negative statements... The AAP is the voice of megapublishers, big and old-fashioned; it sounds stuffy, greedy, and out of touch. Google on the other hand is consistent in using a fresh, democratic tone that appeals to people and words that reflect their values.'

Christensen argues that in doing so, Google is winning hearts and minds, and making publishers sound as if they are restricting free access, rather than protecting their authors' intellectual copyright. She says: 'What matters, for the moment anyway, is that Google thinks it can, without permission, use the work of other people to make money. It justifies this by saying that general good will result, that they are serving the public interest. But the fact is that general good would be the result of throwing open the doors of food warehouses and grocery stores. Then everyone would have enough to eat. But I don't hear many voices suggesting this solution to global hunger.'

The debate looks set to continue.

Google debate

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