If there’s one thing to know in international business, it’s not to flaunt the laws of a sovereign nation, no matter how large your market capitalization or how benign your corporate objective to “do no evil.”
Of course, this fundamental precept is often viewed as mere suggestion rather than sound business judgment. In light of a recent French Court ruling against it, Google believed it was the former. In the French lawsuit, the internet search giant was found guilty of breaching copyright laws by a Paris court after publishing excerpts of French books on its website.
The Paris Civil Court found that Google violated the copyrights of publisher Editions du Seuil SAS, which filed the lawsuit The publisher accused Google of scanning its books free of charge, letting users browse the content for free, reaping revenues from advertisers but not adequately compensating the creators and original publishers of the works. The French company was one of many to take Google to court for digitally scanning its books without explicit permission.
In a 22-page decision, the French Court wrote:
Google violated author copyright laws by fully reproducing and making accessible on the site” books owned by Seuil without its permission.”
Even French President Sarkozy weighed in on the decision and proclaimed:
We are not going to be stripped of our heritage for the benefit of a big company, no matter how friendly, big or American it is.”
You can read about the decision in the New York Times article, French Court Rules Against Google Over Book Copying and in the Bloomberg article Google’s French Book Scanning Project Halted by Court authored by Heather Smith.
Google has also run into trouble stateside regarding its book scanning project. For an excellent discussion on the class action lawsuit filed against it in the U.S. check out David Lat’s Above The Law article, The Google Books Settlement.
Google is not alone in the extraterritorial application of its hubris. Microsoft just recently settled the an Anti-trust case filed against it by the European Union. It’s an interesting case and worthy of a separate blog article. You can read more about Microsoft’s troubles in the EU in the New York Times article Europe Drops Microsoft Antitrust Case.
In light of the French court’s ruling, Google must pay €300,000 (US$432,000) in damages for breach of copyright to the aggrieved publisher. For each day that the books remain accessible online without permission, Google must pay a further €10,000, the court ruled.
The case should serve to remind U.S. Companies operating overseas to: 1) mind your manners; and 2) follow the law. No matter how big you are.
Are you Feeling Lucky now, Google?