crypto and public policy

French Cultural Wars

Filed under: General February 22, 2005 @ 3:40 pm

The director of France’s National Library is worried that Anglo-Saxon culture will crush France. He squarely blames Google, in an editorial entitled “When Google Challenges Europe.” More specifically, he bemoans Google’s recent deal struck with English-language libraries, whereby Google will index and make freely available online millions of published works.

Mr. Jeanneney is right. European culture is indeed threatened when online resources overemphasize Anglo-Saxon works. But you don’t see Japan or South Korea complaining. Should Google stop its work? Should Google be regulated? According to certain French thinking, yes. Google’s already been ordered by French Courts to stop showing advertisements for Cartier when users search for Louis Vuitton. “Unfair Competition,” said the courts.

Unfair Competition? Now that’s ironic. In the fight of the Old vs. the New, the French have always been ultra-conservative. Old business models are protected, and new ideas are viewed with extreme skepticism. Mr. Jeanneney laments that Google’s work will kill off the quiet library reading rooms. Yes, and email will put an end to letter writing. And the telephone will kill personal human relationships.

I love France and, of course, my entire family is from France. But one of the reasons I live and work in the US is that I refuse to accept this kind of complaining and rebuttals to fantastic human endeavors. What is this idea that everything should be tightly controlled in a top-down fashion? Google should be mostly free to innovate. France’s National Library is a great resource, and I’m certain a bit of negotiation and government assistance would convince Google to include it as a future target for indexing.

But innovation is messy, and it certainly isn’t fair. If we want to improve the human condition – and I sincerely believe Google is doing just that – then we must accept that old business models will be threatened. Old traditions will be questioned. And people will have to compete for what they believe in. Enough with innovation by permission, already.


  1. Ned Baldessin:

    Jeanneney isn’t “blaming” Google of anything. He aknowledges the fantastic technological advance taken by them, and argues that this advance will make works in English more easily accessible, hence more popular, etc. Basically : if it isn’t online, it doesn’t exist.
    There is nothing negative about Google in his editorial, he’s even thrilled about the idea of everyone having access to 4.5 billion scanned pages (“jubilation”). He never suggests that Google should be regulated in any way : he even explicitly says the opposite, that this time (contrarely to the audiovisual industry) regulations and quotas won’t work (“cette strat

  2. Ben Adida:

    You’re right to point out that the quiet library reading room comment was a low blow, in that Jeanneney mentions it as a strawman argument. I should have been more careful in my review.

    On the other points, however, I disagree with you. Jeanneney talks about counter-attacking. About how Google is challenging Europe. About a “sursaut.” Maybe this is just a ruse to scare the European politicians into investing money. A ruse that plays into the usual fears of the French Cultural Exception forever squashed by Anglo-Saxon culture.

    But it’s still an argument that plays to this protectionism.

    You’ll note that Jeanneney doesn’t say that quotas and protectionism are bad. He says they are, in this case, impossible. The Yahoo Nazi Artifacts case was similarly “impossible,” but the French Courts didn’t exactly care: they still mandated that Yahoo prevent people browsing the web from France to access certain items for sale.

    So in this case, it may well be impossible for France to protect itself from innovation. But the attitude is still there. I wish it were different.

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