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Last updated on April 17, 2014 at 21:23 EDT

Google To Begin Scanning French Library’s Classic Books

December 21, 2009

In a controversial effort to digitize the world’s books, Google is set to start scanning Europe’s cultural treasures — starting in France, where the U.S. giant got a digital foothold this week, AFP reported.

Patrick Bazin, the director of the Municipal Library of Lyon, said the Internet search giant began peeling open the pages of half a million books from the library on Monday and is contracted to scan them within 10 years.

The French government will spend over one billion dollars (750 million euros) to digitally scan the content of its museums, libraries and cinematographic heritage via a public-private partnership, according to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

While Sarkozy did not say who the private partner might be, observers say Google is most suited for such a project, as a big part of the project would consist of scanning books from France’s National Library (BNF) so they could be consulted online.

Olivier Ertzscheid, an Internet and communications expert at Nantes University, believes the National Library of France would likely accept an offer to work with Google, which would make it the first national library to do so.

“France recognizes the importance of digitization and bit by bit is releasing extra funding. But that will not allow it to rival the power and the economic and financial clout of Google, that’s for sure,” he told AFP.

Bazin said Google began working through 500,000 of the library’s works at a location near Lyon on Monday — where the library can easily check on the work — hand-scanning each page of the delicate volumes individually.

A 16th-century edition of predictions by Nostradamus, Isaac Newton’s 17th-century scientific treatise “Principia” and a work by the French humorist Rabelais were among the books that began scanning on Monday.

The Lyon library will use the digital images of its books for its own purposes under the contract, but notably cedes to Google the right to exploit them commercially for 25 years. In return, Google scans the books for free.

But elsewhere in France, the U.S. company has been less welcome, where digitization has become bound up with the sensitive issue of protecting French cultural and intellectual property.

Some French publishers have accused Google of breaching their copyright by scanning books for publication in its online library Google Books. A Paris court on Friday ruled in the publishers’ favor.

The court order said Google cannot digitize any more French books without the publisher’s approval and ordered the Internet search leader to pay $430,000 in damages to publishers whose books it has already scanned.

Germany and several other technology firms also joined France in challenging a U.S. legal settlement that would allow the Internet giant to scan and sell millions of books online.

Google said on Monday that it had agreed in September to remove all books still on sale in Europe from its U.S. online market offering millions of titles that are out of print in the United States.

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