Google books has been controversial almost since the start, and we knew there were going to be a number of legal challenges. Now French lawmakers have ruled against the company, citing copyright violations.
A group of French publishers, the Martiniere Group, the French Publishers Association, and SGDL (a group of authors), had brought the case to court alleging that Google's practice of digitizing printed texts and distributing them online was a flagrant abuse of copyright under French law. The courts have agreed with the publishers' position, and found Google guilty.
The publishers had asked for over $21 million in compensation, but it's not yet known whether the courts agreed on this matter. The court ordered Google to pay $431,700 (€300,000) in damages and to cease digital distribution of the material.
What makes the whole thing intriguing is that due to legal pressure from a number of directions—presumably including this French case—Google recently agreed to take an axe to Google Books and remove all foreign-language texts, leaving only books published in the U.K., U.S., Australia, and Canada in the publicly-accessible archive. Presumably, the French case had been in process before Google made the decision, and it tackles the problem of Google transmitting the books for the short period before French language books were taken down by Google. Or for those texts which have been translated into English and subsequently published in the U.S. or U.K.
We can presume that the seemingly small fine (very small, for a billion dollar enterprise like Google) compared to the publisher's compensation request is a reflection of the fact the texts have probably already been removed from Google's book archive. But it would be a surprise if the matter ends here: After all, France's President Nicolas Sarkozy himself weighed in on the matter last week, concerned that the supposedly "friendly" US company was "stripping [France's] heritage." And with the French court also ordering Google to cease digitization of further texts as well as ceasing distribution, you can bet Google will be mounting an appeal.