Google's ambitious plan to haul large swathes of the world's library onto the Internet suffered a blow Friday when a French court ordered the world's most powerful search engine to stop digitizing copyrighted French books.
The Paris court ruled that the Google Books project violates the country's copyright laws. The decision came after a three-year battle between Google and a group of powerful French publishers, including the prestigious Le Seuil publishing house.
Google France will appeal the ruling, the first major court loss for the books project.
"This should serve as a real wake-up call for Google, and will no doubt give ideas to other countries who take copyright seriously," said Yann Colin, a lawyer for the publishers.
The ruling affects all books published in France under copyright, including those in U.S. libraries. It is expected to have limited effect abroad.
It will not prevent Google from digitizing U.S.-published books. French copyright law is markedly more strict than that of the U.S., with no equivalent to the notion of "fair use," or the reprinting of copyrighted material for purposes such as research and scholarship.
In the United States, lawyers have argued that Google Books' offerings fall under fair use protection.
The lawsuit in France had the backing of the country's authors' guild. The publishing houses had demanded $21 million from Google, a sum they argued was necessary to grab the attention of the powerful Internet company.
The court stopped shy of the publishers' demands, ordering Google to pay $430,000 in damages and interest.
The court gave Google 30 days to stop digitizing copyrighted French books and to take down excerpts from the works cited in the lawsuit. The court also ordered its ruling to be published on Google Books' French home page, as well as in three French newspapers.
"I don't think anyone wins," said Alexandra Neri, Google France's lawyer. "This decision just holds back the progress of access to online information. Defense of author's rights are a French tradition, but now France could be left behind, without access to its own culture."
French intellectuals, like those in the rest of Europe, have been vocal critics of Google Books. But France does not appear to chafe when it comes to displaying its own literature online, on its own terms.
President Nicolas Sarkozy announced Monday that the government has earmarked more than $1 billion to scan French books.
Faure is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Megan K. Stack in Moscow contributed to this report.