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Google, French publishers face off in court

Major publishers accused Google on Thursday of "brutally" exploiting France's literary heritage as they launched a court challenge to the Internet giant's drive to scan digital copies of books and put extracts online.

Publishing house La Martiniere, the French Publishers' Association and authors' group SGDL asked a Paris court to fine Google €15-million ($22.09-million) and 100,000 euros for each day it continues to violate copyright by digitizing their books.

The trial caps a three-year challenge to what publishers say is the web giant's 2005 plan to create a massive online library without prior approval.

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"It's an anarchic way of brutally stockpiling French heritage," Yann Colin, the publishers' lawyer, told the court.

"Digitizing is reproduction," he added. "Once it is digitized, you can't undo it."

Colin argued that the case, which targets Google's French unit, should be tried under local law as the publishers, scanned works and authors were French.

The publishers also argue that Google's massive profits are "parasitic", as they were generated from sponsored links which are presented to web surfers searching for copyrighted books.

Google's lawyer argued that the firm is not creating a library, but rather a book search service which makes information more freely accessible.

"Google is not a philanthropic group; it is a commercial firm, but that does not mean it is guilty of illegal acts," said Alexandra Neri, who argued that publishers do not hold the rights to electronic copies of the books.

The tribunal expects to reach a decision by Dec. 18.

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The French hearing comes after the California company struck a deal with author and publisher groups in the United States earlier this year, allowing it to copy books for the Internet.

Germany has opposed a proposed settlement, which Google reached with the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers Inc. among others last year, saying Google could digitize books by German authors without their consent.

Google has so far scanned about 10 million books through deals with libraries, publishers and authors but not always with permission from rights-holders and out-of-print books which are hard to find.

Google argues that scanning and publishing millions of books online makes access to information on the web more democratic.

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