Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Europeans Are A'Waking (05 August 2005)

This bit jumped into my eye as I was looking for news on the idiotic court case by AFP against Google.
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PARIS (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac has vowed to launch a new "counter-offensive" against American cultural domination, enlisting the support of the British, German and Spanish governments in a multi-million euro bid to put the whole of European literature on-line.
The president was reacting last week to news that the American search-engine provider Google is to offer access to some 15 million books and documents currently housed in five of the most prestigious libraries in the English-speaking world.

The realisation that the "Anglo-Saxons" were on the verge of a major breakthrough towards the dream of a universal library seriously rattled the cultural establishment in Paris, raising again the fear that French language and ideas will one day be reduced to a quaint regional peculiarity.
So on Wednesday Chirac met with Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres and National Library president Jean-Noel Jeanneney and asked them "to analyse the conditions under which the collections of the great libraries in France and Europe could be put more widely and more rapidly on the Internet".

(...) It was Jeanneney who alerted Chirac to the new challenge. In an article in Le Monde newspaper, France's chief librarian conceded that the Google-Print project, with its 4.5 billion pages of text, will be a boon to researchers and a long-awaited chance for poor nations to get access to global learning.

But he went on: "The real issue is elsewhere. And it is immense. It is confirmation of the risk of a crushing American domination in the definition of how future generations conceive the world.
"The libraries that are taking part in this enterprise are of course themselves generously open to the civilisations and works of other countries ... but still, their criteria for selection will be profoundly marked by the Anglo-Saxon outlook," he said.

(...) Fear of American cultural hegemony has been a constant of French policy since the first sticks of chewing gum arrived during World War II.

The country's instinctive reaction has been protectionist, and today France maintains a complex web of laws and subsidies to defend its film, music and publishing industries. Only a few voices are ever raised to argue that protectionism can lead to introverted mediocrity.

But in the battle over what the French press has dubbed "omnigooglisation," protectionism is not an option. The all-pervasive nature of the Internet makes any attempt to freeze out a competitor impossible. Which leaves no alternative, Jeanneney said, but "counter-attack".
France in fact already has a minuscule version of the Google initiative already in hand. The Gallica project has put some 80,000 works and 70,000 images on-line, But the programme's budget is less than one thousandth of the 200 million dollars that the US corporation is prepared to spend.

So Chirac has decided to turn to Europe in the hope that an alliance of nations can find the finance and will-power to fight back. With his belief in the so-called multipolar world, it is exactly the sort of mission that he believes Europe is ordained to carry out.
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Questions by the Bibliophile:
1) Excuse me, how many readers do we have in German and French? I could understand Spanish, but French??? Why, instead of trying to raise funds from a slupmed and impoverished Europe, don't they get more of their French and German stuff translated into God's other languages? Eco doesn't seem to mind being translated into English as soon as his hot Italian comes off the press - the guy knows who pays the bills.

2) American domination my ass... America is not the only English-speaking country, and as for academic publishing and literature, UK stands tall and proud - but so does INDIA. Come on, Mother India, you've got the labour force where the Yanks have money - get the millions of your printed books by Indian academics, writers and poets up and running. I vote for India-loogle :-))

3) An Anglo-Saxon outlook is not very scary; but I have to admit that the French outlook will be more colourful and the German less politically correct. Why can't you folks join hands to have a pan-European online library, and ehm, ehm, Monsieur Chirac, England is part of Europe regardless to how much you dislike frivolous Tony.

4) Counter-attack on the perceived Anglo-Saxon hegemony with "and is soon to make available the BNF's stock of 19th century newspapers" makes me want to cry. You mean you haven't produced anything of value since the 19th century?? Try Project Gutenberg :-)
As the Sudanese dismissively say: "You have no issue."

Oh, by the way, chewing gum is healthy for your teeth.

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