We live in an era where information is so omnipresent that we aren’t used to barriers to its access. Think about it — anyone in Naples who wants to know more about, say, Marie Curie just has to type her name into a search engine to find out more about her.

But the expectation that information is free ignores the fact that people who generate, verify, curate, edit and present this information deserve to be paid for their efforts. The contrast between that reality and 21st century expectations about widely available information is well-illustrated by a six-year-long copyright dispute between Google and a French publisher that only recently ended.

A few years ago, Google said it wanted to digitize every single book in the world and make them available on the Internet. As you might be able to guess, that caused some consternation among publishers and authors because they did not like the idea of their hard work being made available for free.

The goal to digitize every book on the planet has hit some rough patches, including an argument with a French publisher and the French government body responsible for preserving French culture. The publisher did not want its livelihood strangled by having free books on the Internet and the government agency did not want French culture to be watered down by an American company.

A few days ago, the three reached an agreement whereby Google will donate money to a French literacy program in exchange for the two groups’ promise to drop their lawsuit. Still, issues remain with the digital books program. So far, Google has only scanned and uploaded about 20 million titles.

Source: BBC, “Six-year Google Books spat ends with publisher agreement,” June 11, 2012