A year after the collapse of the Google (NSDQ: GOOG) Books Settlement in a New York court, the government of France has passed a law to digitize and sell half a million “unavailable” works from the 20th century.
The goal of the project is to preserve and commercialize French books from before 2001 that are no longer for sale in print or online. France’s Bibliothèque nationale is compiling a list of books that will be included in the project and eventually sold online.
According to Swiss newspaper Le Temps, the French government will hold a 40 percent stake in a new royalty collection enterprise while publishers will control the rest. The project, which is receiving an initial subsidy of 30 million euros, guarantees that at least 50 percent of royalties will go to publishers and authors.
Like the Google Book Settlement, the French plan is “opt-out” which means that authors will be included unless they object within six months.
“This is an underwater continent that has just resurfaced,” Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand reportedly said when the deal was signed. According to Le Temps, the details of the agreement were a long-held secret until a literary site Actualitte reported them in late February. Both France’s Senate and Assemblée Nationale have approved the plan.
Science fiction writer Ayerdha is leading an opposition of 900 writers who have signed a petition and denounced the scheme as an abuse of their intellectual property rights.
France has long been a laggard in digitizing books and news media, and the plan appears to offer a way to catch up with countries like the United States where digitization is ubiquitous.
France’s ambitious scheme is notable given that the country was a leading opponent to the failed three-way settlement in the US between Google, publishers and the Authors Guild. On Actualitte, supporters claim the French deal is different because the Bibliothèque nationale is supervising it and because the new digital collection will not show “snippets” of scanned work.
The French scheme may also have a snobbish element to it. As Le Temps notes, the Bibliothèque nationale is likely to include at first only traditional literature so fans of bodice rippers and the like may have to wait to see their favorite titles online.
It’s not clear if France will scan all the works from scratch or if it will include works already scanned by Google. I have reached out to Google for comment and will update when I hear back.
The new law is called “La loi sur les livres indisponibles du XXème siècle”
[Update: Thanks to commenter TheSFReader for calling attention to my mistranslation of "indisponsibles." I had earlier written "indispensable" instead of "unavailable." My French is rusty -- I apologize for the error.]