France’s Digital Exploitation of 20th Century Unavailable Books

The title of France’s new law says it all:  Act No. 2012-287 of 1 March 2012 on the digital exploitation of twentieth century unavailable books.  (Website in French.)  The law will be enforced beginning six months from March 1, 2012.  According to literary scholar Gillian Spraggs, “[t]he 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.”  See Spraggs’ post, France Guillotines Copyright.  As that title suggests, author groups now accuse France of stripping authors of their copyright rights.

The law sets out a scheme under which a collective management society grants publishers non-exclusive licenses to publish, in digital form, commercially unavailable books.  Commercially unavailable books are books that that were published in France before January 1, 2001 and are not currently published in paper or digital form.  The French National Library will manage a publicly accessible database of unavailable books.  Anyone can request that a book title be added to the database. 

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