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France: Google Infringes Copyright Law in Scanning Excerpts of Books Without Authorization

(Jan. 5, 2010) On December 18, 2009, the Paris Tribunal de Grande Instance (Court of General Competence) ruled that Google has infringed French copyright law by digitalizing and publishing online excerpts of French books without the authorization of the rights' owners. (TGI Paris, 3eme, 2eme, 18-12-2009, nº 09/00540, Société Editions du Seuil SAS c/ Société Google Inc., Lexbase online subscription database, No. A8446EPI (last visited Dec. 31, 2009).)

Google had argued that American law controlled, in particular, the fair use doctrine, relying on article 5, section 2, of the Berne Convention, according to which the applicable law should be the law of the state where the offenses occurred in matters of complex conflicts on Internet publication, unless it could be established that the dispute was very closely related to another country, in this case France. The digitalization had taking place in the United States. (Id.).

The Paris court instead applied the choice-of-law rule for tort matters, which provides that the applicable law is the place where the tort was committed. Where the tort is complex, the place should be determined by assessing which place is the most closely connected. The Paris court ruled that this was a complex tort and looked for the various connections between the case and France. It identified the following connecting factors: the digitized books were French, the plaintiffs were French, one defendant was a French company (Google France), and the site was a “.fr” site, available in the French language, which justified, according to the court, the application of French law. (Id.).

The court ordered Google, Inc. to stop violating French law under an astreinte, a civil penalty of €10,000 (about US$14,307) per day for non-compliance, which will come into effect 30 days after notification of the judgment. Google, Inc. is also to pay a total of €300,000 (about US$429,219) in damages to the various plaintiffs. (Id.)