Can Someone Explain How Making French Cultural Works More Available Takes Away French Heritage?

from the it's-a-simple-question dept

French politicians have been quite upset about Google’s book scanning project for years. Way back in 2005, government officials announced that Google’s book scanning project was a threat to French culture. Why? Because the fear was that Google would just scan English books, and ignore the French. So, the French government mobilized. Or, rather, spoke as if it was going to mobilize and tossed a pile of money at a bunch of organizations with no real mandate to do anything. As such, the project fell apart.

Of course, the French politicians are still upset about the “threat” of Google and its book scanning, but whereas the original complaint was that French books would get ignored, it seems like the current complaint is that French books won’t be ignored. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, one of the earliest supporters of kicking people off the internet under a “three strikes” regime — despite a history of copyright infringement himself — has spoken out about how France can’t let Google take away French heritage:

“We won’t let ourselves be stripped of our heritage to the benefit of a big company, no matter how friendly, big or American it is.”

I have to admit that I’m really struggling here to understand how Google is “stripping” anyone’s “heritage” in making such works more easily accessible by everyone. In the meantime, as we noted a few months back, it appears that the French National Library agrees with us more than the government, since it signed up to have Google scan its books.

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Comments on “Can Someone Explain How Making French Cultural Works More Available Takes Away French Heritage?”

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iNtrigued (profile) says:

So the truth comes out!

“We won’t let ourselves be stripped of our heritage to the benefit of a big company, no matter how friendly, big or American it is.”

And in there lies the real issue, it’s about the fact that an American company came up with the idea and actually successfully implemented it while their own attempts failed… Badly.

On a side note, being only half French myself I guess me breathing takes away from the “French heritage”. I mean really, how dare I not be 100% French, the nerve!

william (profile) says:

Re: So the truth comes out!

Actually, I think being American is only part of it.

Part of it is a politician trying to create/raise a common enemy for personal gain.

It’s like in the state whenever there is a problem you use the word “terrorist”.

Look at how familiar these two sentences could be

“We won’t let ourselves be stripped of our heritage to the benefit of a big company, no matter how friendly, big or American it is.”

“We won’t be defeated in our homeland by our enemy, no matter how relentless and brutal those terrorists are”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

French aspires to be a dead language. The language police have ossified the language into a corpse. English is a robust language unafraid to assimilate other languages.

James Nicoll said this as well as anyone– The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that the English language is as pure as a crib-house whore. It not only borrows words from other languages; it has on occasion chased other languages down dark alley-ways, clubbed them unconscious and rifled their pockets for new vocabulary.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

You know...

“We won’t let ourselves be stripped of our heritage to the benefit of a big company, no matter how friendly, big or American it is.”

I’ve resisted it for a long time, but I’m finally ready to jump aboard the isolationist bandwagon. I’m done, both with these foreign idiots that can’t acknowledge all the good we do abroad to our domestic idiots who can’t seem to help but do the audacious things that fuck up our image abroad. I’m saying we take it all away, the good AND the bad. Other than very simple and open trading and commerce, nothing gets done outside the borders.

No more foreign aid, you’re on your own. No more going into Eastern Europe to save Muslims from genocide only to have others declare a Jihad on us. No more supporting Israel OR the Palestinians, you guys work out your issues on your own and leave us the fuck out of it. Your country specifically and officially harbors those that attack us? You’re done, and I mean in a HUGE way. And then no nation building afterwards, either. Just decimation and we’re out.

That also means no meddling in other people’s governments. We can’t figure out how to get most of our citizens to vote, but we’re going to go tell other countries to embrace democracy? Please. No more American influence in the Middle East, Russia, Asia, Europe. No more CIA run drug smuggling companies in Columbia, or NSA arms running companies in Brazil. No more bases in Germany, or Iraq, or Saudi Arabia. All our troops not actively engaged in battle are coming home to defend the homeland, harden the borders.

No more easy immigration. We opened ourselves to the outside, and people took advantage of that, so it’s going away. Man the borders, keep those not entering the legal way out.

And the next time the Germans come calling, leave a message and we’ll return your call when we have a chance….

Why do they hate US ? says:

Re: Re: You know...

I’m sure that the US would “fade from prominence” if it were to stop:
1. “meddling in other people’s governments.”
2. “CIA run drug smuggling companies in Columbia”
3. “NSA arms running companies in Brazil”
4. etc

Don’t worry, because as we all know that is not going to happen any time soon.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: You know...

“I think Helmet knows that. I think that’s the idea!”

Indeed. I’ll take a country that is just and respectful of its neighbors over one that’s prominent any day. I’ll also prefer my country not engage in generosity with a rest of the world that is ungrateful and unwilling to even acknowledge that generosity.

Trade with everyone. Help no one. Engage with no one politically beyond what’s necessary. You want to sell stuff to us? Fine. You want to buy stuff from us? Fine. Other than that, leave us the fuck alone….

Steven (profile) says:

Re: Re: You know...

I must say I really couldn’t care less if my country had ‘prominence’. All I care about is reasonable security (not the current security theater), freedom, and basic services. From there prosperity will come.

The idea of becoming isolationist on the government level today is actually quite interesting as we are easily global on a personal level, and an isolationist government shouldn’t effect that one bit.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: You know...

Explain to me why, as a general principle, if you’re willing to accept that you aren’t going to be a major influence on other countries, why isolationism cannot work.

And here’s another thing, I’ve had enough with the whole, “Democracy is what’s true and right! We must spread democracy throughout the world” crap. That is nothing but a cover for empire building. It’s not true, it’s not right, and actively going out of your way to spread democracy to places where it wouldn’t have spread naturally is probably the most un-democratic thing a democracy could possibly DO!

Democracy is the best for some cultures. Others work best under socialism. Others, usually smaller cultures, thrive best under *shudder* communism. I imagine there’s also been an example or two where an authoritarian dictator was the best way to go.

The best case scenario is that EVERYBODIES ego goes out the door. Since that won’t happen, the only other option is for US to do it and not participate in the silliness with the rest of the world.

Seriously, how special would it be if a US President got on the podium of the United Nations and said: “Okay, that’s it. Party’s over, so please go back to your countries, and don’t hold your breath for us to call. In the estimation of the United States, the rest of the world is odd and silly, and we choose not to participate with the rest of you…”

Adam Wasserman (profile) says:

Sarkozy is making a valid observation on the importance of information infrastructure and national interests.

Large well indexed collections of information are a tremendous national asset. Consider this interesting quote from the US Library of Congress website: “The development of the Library of Congress cannot be separated from the history of the nation it serves”.

It is indisputable that Google is able to do things (as a “superuser”) with Google Books in terms of information mining that we as humble users can not do.

It is most certainly in France’s interests to make sure that French institutions have the same kind of “superuser” powers over any vast collection of digitized French language information that is compiled.

When I read Sarkozy’s statements in context, in French, I am left with a different impression. I understand him to be saying: “Shame on us if we are unable to undertake for ourselves work of cultural significance.”

No one can deny that the project is culturally significant. No one can deny that France should be asking itself that question – why rely on someone else to do it?
Sarkozy is not being an idiot about this, quite the opposite.

As usual, you have to be very careful with taking news reporting at face value. Quotes are presented in the most sensational way possible, not to inform, but to inflame – because that sells better. When translations are involved even more care needs to be exercised.

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Re:

When I read Sarkozy’s statements in context, in French, I am left with a different impression.

Are you saying that, when read in their entirety, Sarkozy’s comments come off softer than the particular “stripped of our heritage” statement, but that the statement is accurate or that the statement was actually mistranslated or taken out of context? Because that statement seems very clear cut. I’m not saying it couldn’t be mistranslated, but it seems rather odd that the particular statement would be translated from “We should be doing this ourselves rather than relying on another country to do it for us.”

Adam Wasserman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Sorry for the delay, holidays and all that.

To answer your question, I am not sure what the entirety of Sarkozy’s comments were. A full text seems impossible to come by, and the possibility exists that these were carefully crafted sound bites released to the press to stimulate support for his (then) upcoming announcement of a large appropriation which included a budget for strengthening the digital capabilities of the French equivalent of the Library of Congress. (part of what I meant by context)

The quote above that was widely translated into English was accompanied by another quote which was not widely translated into English (the other part of what I meant by context,pardon my rough translation):

“It is unacceptable that we allow ourselves to lose control over the works of generations upon generations of French authors simply because we are unable (unwilling) to allocate the budget needed for us to be technologically capable of digitizing books.”

Bear in mind that French is a very “dramatic” language (by this I mean more elaborate in its phrase construction than English), and that adjusted for “tone”, I feel that “We should be doing this ourselves rather than relying on another country to do it for us.” is a fair paraphrasing of what Sarkozy said.

. says:


Takes the control of the works away from the french government.

If the french start using google, the government falls into the hands of a corporation that have no obligation to follow anything the government says.

Is about leverage. That is the same reason europeans, russians and the chinese are building their own GPS systems.

Google or the U.S. government or both could ruin the publishing industry or Google could end up in a position where they could ask anything and others would have to accept.

Apple did it to the music industry and now they don’t like it so much, others are desperately trying to come up with their own versions but they just don’t have the know how.

Funny really.

Hulser (profile) says:

If the french start using google, the government falls into the hands of a corporation that have no obligation to follow anything the government says.

“If” being the key word in your statement. But the French aren’t required to use Google. The fact that Google would scan French books doesn’t take away — i.e. “strip away” — anything from the French. On the contrary, it can only add to what the French have access to. That Google is an American company and that the French government wouldn’t have control over how it limits access to the French works in no way whatsoever limits what the French government can do with French books.

. says:

Re: Re:

It really doesn’t matter what it does or not the fact that Google could be used by the U.S. government to decimate the french publishing industry and put an all american industry in place is scary to any country. Google is not a company full of hot air they actually do things and they take over markets.

Here you think is about companies?

40 U.S. congressman wrote to the E.U. in the name of Oracle.

This is about self interest of one nation against the other.

If the U.S. had the upperhand they would have threatened the E.U. with something and they know that.

BillHarr says:

Re: Re: Re:

Oracle, Google, Microsoft, etc., are really multi-nationals with lots of employees all over the world. They have few loyalties to the US (many of their employees may tho, but so what? – that doesn’t drive company policy). Their loyalties are to their managers & stockholders. If 40 US congressmen are making a plea to the EU, it’s because they know where their money (remember, we’ve legalized bribery & call it ‘free speech’ for the corps.) comes from & how pissed some their constituents might get if a job(s) here or there are lost. You watch what happens in France (or any place) if Microsoft/Google jobs are threatened there by actions in another country. Those pols will be writing letters too. I think all this patriotism/nationalism being thrown around here is really for naught (well, maybe it makes some of us feel better).

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