He said that Google had scanned 10,000 French books into its database, 80 per cent of which were under copyright. However, the judge restricted their ruling to just 300 works.

Eyrolles said French publishers would still like to work with Google to digitise their books, "but only if they stop playing around with us and start respecting intellectual property rights."

Online literature

Google has scanned 10 milion books through partnerships with libraries in an ambitious ongoing project to put the world's literature online.

"French readers now face the threat of losing access to a significant body of knowledge and falling behind the rest of internet users"

Philippe Colombet,
Google

It displays searchable extracts of books in copyright and whole texts of out-of-copyright works.

La Martiniere, a French publisher, the French Publishers' Association, and authors' group SGDL accused Google of reaping revenues from advertisers on the site without adequately compensating the creators or the original publishers of the works.

A judge ordered Google to pay $430,000 in damages and interest to La Martiniere, which brought the case on behalf of a group of French publishers.

Yann Colin, a lawyer representing La Martiniere, said: "I think that it will serve as a reference, in any case it will make jurisprudence, and will bring other publishers who haven't personally acted to act themselves after the Editions de Martiniere decision to get damages back for what they have suffered in terms of violating copyright by Google."

He said that even if Google decided to appeal, the ruling would be enforced immediately.

'Body of knowledge'

Philippe Colombet, the head of Google's book scanning project in France, said the company disagrees with the judgment.

"French readers now face the threat of losing access to a significant body of knowledge and falling behind the rest of internet users," Colombet said in an emailed statement.

"We believe that displaying a limited number of short extracts from books complies with copyright legislation both in France and the US and improves access to books."

But the court ruling said that Google could not "seriously argue, unless it is casting doubt on the reason for the Google Books search engine, that creating a digital file from a book is not an act of reproduction".

"Digitising constitutes a reproduction of a work that must, if it falls under copyright protection, be done with the approval of the author or the copyright holders."

Alexandra Neri, Google's lawyer said Google plans to appeal the decision.