A new agreement between Hachette Livre and Google could offer a way forward in the ongoing dispute between authors, publishers and the search engine over the digitising of out-of-print books.
Under the new deal, Google will be able to scan Hachette Livre's titles where the publisher wants it to, and will then be able to make them available as ebooks for purchase through Google Books. But the publisher will keep control over which books the search engine has access to and books it doesn't want digitised will be removed from Google. The search engine won't have a monopoly on the scanned books either: French booksellers will also be able to sell them.
The deal only applies to Hachette Livre's French language publishing, but Google has also said it is in "notional" talks with UK publishers about a similar deal. The chief executive of Hachette UK, Tim Hely Hutchinson, declined to comment on whether his publishing house would be following its parent company's lead.
"Both parties see this as an opportunity to breathe new life into Hachette Livre's dormant out-of-print works for the benefit of authors," Google and Hachette Livre declared in a joint statement.
The dispute between authors, publishers and Google dates back several years. US bodies The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers filed lawsuits against the search engine for copyright infringement in 2005 after Google had begun digitising books in libraries without authorisation in 2002. Attempts to resolve the issue through the Google Book Settlement – and now the revised Google Books Settlement, currently awaiting judicial approval in the US – have failed to satisfy angry publishers and authors. Novelist Ursula Le Guin led a campaign for a mass opt-out of authors from the revised settlement last year, calling it a "deal with the devil," while Hely Hutchinson described it as "a weak compromise". French publishers have also been very active in opposing the settlement.
But Arnaud Nourry, chairman and chief executive of Hachette Livre, said the new agreement represented a fresh start in the publisher's relationship with Google. The deal had "nothing to do with a waiver of our claims concerning Google's past practices, and everything to do with a new and exciting foundation on which to build a fresh start based on fairness, even-handedness and the acknowledgement of our rights and of those of our authors", he said. He said the agreement "enables us to break the deadlock in an honourable and positive way, while protecting the interests of all parties involved".
Google senior vice-president David Drummond declared the announcement "a great step for French authors, Google, Hachette and above all, French readers". He called the agreement "a win-win deal for Google and the French publishing industry", saying: "French authors will get new opportunities to sell their books and readers throughout the world will gain access to exciting, hard-to-find French-language books."
The basic terms and conditions of the agreement are to be made available to all French publishers.