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France Guillotines Copyright

5 March 2012

From Action on Authors’ Rights:

Last Thursday (23rd February) the French Parliament ratified a law ‘relating to the digitization of commercially unavailable books of the twentieth-century’.

. . . .

The law has been promoted by its supporters as a means to enable public access to literary works of the twentieth century that are still under copyright but no longer commercially available.

. . . .

The Bibliothèque Nationale de France (equivalent of the British Library) is to compile a freely accessible online database of all works published in France before 1 January 2001 that are not being commercially distributed by a publisher and are not currently published in print or digital form.

. . . .

Once a book has been listed in the database for more than six months, the right to authorize its reproduction and display in digital form . . .  will be transferred to a collective management organisation (hereafter abbreviated to cmo) approved by the Minister of Culture.

. . . .

The author of a commercially unavailable book or the publisher who has publishing rights to a print edition may object to the transfer to the cmo of the right to authorize its reproduction and display in digital form. Such an objection must be made in writing and sent to the cmo within six months after the book has been included in the database. Any such objection is to be recorded in the database.

. . . .

In an interview with Le Nouvel Observateur French copyright lawyer Guillaume Sauvage has commented:

‘With the principle of the ‘opt-out’, the author can extricate [his book] from the database at any point if he succeeds in proving that he is the sole holder of the digital rights. But this is strange: that ought to be the case with regard to 99.9% of the authors who signed contracts in the twentieth century, in a period when no contract mentions digital rights and, at the same time, it seems to me that proof of this will not be easy to present.’

Link to the rest at Action on Authors’ Rights with lots of additional French and English-language links discussing this law. Here’s a link to the published law.

This a translation by a person or persons unknown from French into English. Unfortunately, the one quarter of French PG took in college did not stick very well. If any French-speaking visitors wish to correct or clarify the translation, please post something in the comments.

Copyright/Intellectual Property, Non-US

12 Comments to “France Guillotines Copyright”

  1. This is 1 of 2 books currently being “stolen” from me in France.


    Castor Poche did make a deal for the rights 30 years ago. Since then, (aside from the fact the rights reverted to me) they’ve never paid me royalties and now they have this new edition without informing anyone. I fully expect a digital version to compete with my own version any moment. Mon crayon est jaune is my level of French but I did send the company a note using Google Translate to let them know I still exist.

    The book (and the other) are gone, I accept that. Flammarion will do what they want with the sanction of the government. It was more or less to make me feel I had done something.

    Amazon rousts me periodically, insisting I prove that I have the rights to publish my own books. I just wonder if they’ve inquired if Flammarion has the rights to publish my books. I expect the answer is no.

  2. Did you contact them and ask for the royalties ? Was the deal made through an agent ?
    Did you keep a copy of the contract ?

    I think (IANAL) that you could enforce the contract legally (even though it could be costly).

    • Did you contact them and ask for the royalties ?

      No. Until recently (amazon.fr) I had no idea what they were doing.

      Was the deal made through an agent ?

      No, through the publisher. Does that make a difference?

      Did you keep a copy of the contract ?

      Hey, it’s 30 years ago and I’ve moved about 15 times since then. I have a copy of the rights reverting back to me from Atheneum, now McMillan.

      I think (IANAL)

      I have no idea what that means.

      that you could enforce the contract legally (even though it could be costly).

      I don’t have any money.

      See how easy it is to just say the books are gone when you can’t do anything about it?

      • I’m sorry for you.

        Did you THEN receive royalties ?

        Still, did you try and contact Flammarion directly ? I could try and track back their legal department, and maybe translate a letter’s text for you (as long as it’s not too long), and translate back their answer if they do answer.

        As I stated, I Am Not A Lawyer, nor a professional translator, but I can try and help.

        Lastly, if you want I can do some bad publicity, but I am not necessarily sure it would be a good idea (at first, before having explored the other possibilities).

  3. Vive la France!

    Barbara’s problems aside (they are problems with publishing in another language/country regardless of the new database) — the only way we can save our orphaned works, and preserve our cultural heritage, is to force copyright holders to take an active part in the maintenance of copyright after a certain point.

    Being French, they’ll probably over do it. And at best it’s only a stop gap.

    Still, copyright is due for a huge shakeup. Barbara’s problems are an illustration of that. It’s impossible to enforce, really, when you go global. When it was just paper, it was good enough. With digital? Everything artificial about it is going to be shaken apart.

  4. Other possibility is check the database regularly (at least every 6 months) and opt-out if you see your books appear.

    One interesting twist in the thing, is (As far as I know, and I am not a lowyer), the book published in France is NOT the work you sold, but a translation, considered a derived work, written by the translator, in which case HE would be the one who could/should oppose.
    HE would be the one who gets at least as much as the publisher.

    And I don’t think it would exonerate the publisher from paying the royalties he agreed on with YOUR contract.

  5. In general I think the motive behind this law is probably a good thing, (making out of print works available), but the implementation will likely cause all sorts of problems. But my first question is, how does this not violate all those international copyright treaties?

    • What does “in print” mean? Is the definition in French by a French publisher? What if the book is in print in America?

      Wherever Amazon reaches, my books are “in print”. If there’s a moment when the book goes out of print, does that make it fair game? It’s legal to steal intellectual property from authors who are very much alive and holding the rights?

      Just because the work is out of print doesn’t mean the thing is in public domain.

      Or maybe if you’re in France trying to legalize theft, it does.

      • I’ve only skimmed through the article, but the headline “Guillotines Copyright” seems a little inflammatory. They’re not claiming or putting the books in the public domain. The authors (or rights holders) are still supposed to be getting paid via this “collective management organization”, rather like the google books deal that was negotiated before it got axed. So it’s not like they’re taking your book and giving it away, more like they’re declaring you incompetent to manage your own affairs and taking over while they pump you full of drugs and lock you in a padded room.

        Believe me, I’m sympathetic to your situation, and I think you’ve got every right to get paid for your work. But as someone with a list of books I’d like for research and can not lay hands on, and others where I’ve paid hundreds of dollars for used copies, (tell me why something is out of print when people are willing to pay ten times the original cover price for used copies?), I’m generally favorable to schemes to make those things available. Ideally the authors could upload their own works, set their own prices, and get paid directly, but nothing’s ever that clean in reality. Really they should restrict this sort of scheme to deceased authors where no one is looking after the estate, or situations where the publication rights are in some sort of legal limbo.

        International copyright enforcement has always been a problem area and probably always will be.

      • “Art. L. 134-1. – On entend par livre indisponible au sens du présent chapitre un livre publié en France avant le 1er janvier 2001 qui ne fait plus l’objet d’une diffusion commerciale par un éditeur et qui ne fait pas actuellement l’objet d’une publication sous une forme imprimée ou numérique.”
        According to that, books that are commercially published (numerically or in print)shouldn’t be considered unavailable .

  6. Writer Beware has a post about this.


    A point they brought up was that the law affects All books that went out of print in France. After the six month opt out period the collective management organization may the license the work for distribution, with no input from the rights holder on terms of the contract.


    “Vive La Nanny State” (in a horrible French accent)

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