France to Digitize Its Own Books

France submitted comments expressing concern during the last go round in revising the terms of the original Google Books settlement. Michael Geist links to a New York Times story that at first would seem continuous with the French government’s earlier stance. French President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged almost $1.1 billion to fund a new public-private partnership for the country to digitize its own literary works.

The article explains that the French national library originally approached Google about this effort. This is apparently what prompted the criticism filed as part of the ongoing class action against Google. The criticism apparently was not strenuous enough to prevent the Library from once again approaching the search giant as a potential private partner under Sarkozy’s new proposal.

I can only guess, though the article doesn’t say, that the difference is France would retain more control over the resulting data. The article mentions the need for capital beyond what the government can supply. That means there would have to be some consideration, in terms of some privileged access or exclusive opportunity, for whatever outfit steps up. So how would partnering now be any different from partnering with Google before?

There is another aspect to this that the NYT piece doesn’t explore, similar to the story upon which I remarked about the UK pushing civil services online. Namely that there is a troubling conflict implied by Sarkozy’s push to render France’s cultural heritage into digital format for preservation and access online while at the same time Sarkozy is one of the earliest and loudest proponents for three strikes as a measure for dealing with copyright infringement committed via online file sharing.

You cannot champion the ability of digital technology and networks to copy and share information on the one hand while simultaneously suggesting that permanent disconnection from the network is a valid response to a substantially similar activity. Worse, the movement of publicly funded goods and services online exacerbates the loss of access, often under rules that forego due process and judicial oversight.

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