PARIS — France agreed Tuesday to work with Google in a programme to digitally scan French library books but insisted it would not surrender legal control of its cultural heritage to the US Internet giant.
Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand said he would discuss sharing digital files of works from France in return for items from Google's online library, while also pressing on with France's own digitisation efforts.
He approved an experts' report published Tuesday which proposed a "partnership" with Google and its online library Google Books.
"We are going to propose to Google... an exchange of documents, without exclusivity, in a transparent way and with respect for the authors," the minister was quoted as saying by Le Monde newspaper.
Google said it welcomed the spirit of "cooperation" in Tuesday's report but did not give details of a possible partnership with France.
"Google welcomes any private-public initiative that aims to promote French culture and make it accessible to as many people as possible," the head of Google France's books programme, Philippe Colombet, said in a statement.
"This collaboration will enrich Google Books and improve the service for Internet users who will be able to access thousands of works in French."
Mitterrand said he would visit Google bosses at their US headquarters in March.
"I will say to them again, when I visit them in California, that respect for authors' rights must be a strict condition of any strong and viable partnership," he said.
France has been searching in recent months for ways to bring its vast cultural holdings into the digital age, including through scanning books and museum objects so they can be viewed online.
Last month President Nicolas Sarkozy announced a 750-million-euro (1.08-billion-dollar) package of state funding for digitisation of "the content of our museums, our libraries and our cinematographic heritage" via a public-private partnership.
The report proposed setting up a "common platform where all works could be accessible to Internet users," via a public-private partnership involving public libraries and publishers.
Google, the world leader in Internet searches, is an obvious candidate with the expertise for a mass digitisation project, having already scanned millions of works for its online library Google Books.
Last month it began scanning antique books from the major public collection in the southeastern French city of Lyon under a contract with the municipal library that controversially gives Google the rights to the works for 25 years.
But suspicion of the huge California-based company runs deep and discussions between Google and France's National Library over a similar project raised concerns that French heritage could fall into private hands.
Mitterrand said meanwhile France should push on with its own book-scanning project, an online catalogue of National Library documents called Gallica.
The report commissioned by Mitterrand acknowledged Google's status as a leading player in digitisation but urged caution in negotiating the contracts with it to keep commercial control and digital distribution rights.
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