France fines Google each day for digital books

PARIS — A Paris court ruled last week that Google Inc.' s expansion into digital books breaks France's copyright laws, and a judge slapped the Internet search leader with a daily fine until it stops showing literary snippets.

Besides being fined the equivalent of $14,300 for each day in violation, Google was ordered to pay $430,000 in damages and interest to French publisher La Martiniere, which brought the case on behalf of a group of French publishers.

Google attorney Alexandra Neri said the company would appeal.

The decision erects another legal barrier that may prevent Google from realizing its 5-year-old goal of scanning all the world's books into a digital library accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.

A U.S. legal settlement that would give Google the digital rights to millions of books is in limbo because U.S. regulators have warned a federal judge in New York that the arrangement probably would thwart competition in the budding electronic book market and compromise copyrights, as well.

The top U.S. copyright official and the governments in Germany and France also have raised objections about that settlement overstepping its bounds. Google is trying to address the critics with a revised settlement that is still under court review.

The French case is relatively small in comparison.

Still, the ruling served as a reminder that Google's ambitious push into other markets beyond Internet search increasingly is clashing with fears the Mountain View, Calif., company is getting too powerful.

As part of the backlash, Google has been depicted as a copyright scofflaw that prospers off the content of others — a portrayal the company's management insists is totally off base.

Philippe Colombet, the head of Google's book-scanning project in France, said the company disagrees with the court's ruling.

"French readers now face the threat of losing access to a significant body of knowledge and falling behind the rest of Internet users," Colombet said in a conference call with reporters. "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."

Colombet declined to answer questions about whether Google would remove the books from its database or pay the fine.

Google has scanned more than 10 million books worldwide since 2004, including 2 million with the consent of about 30,000 publishers. About 9,000 of those publishers are in Europe, Colombet said.