Judge paves way for authors to sue Google over scanning, e-books


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The judge in the long-running Google Books case paved the way Thursday for authors to sue Google as a class. Judge Denny Chin has granted class certification to authors challenging Google over its massive book digitization project.

‘The ruling is a setback for Google,’ writes Jeff John Roberts at Paid Content, ‘which asked Judge Denny Chin earlier this month to remove the Authors Guild and a photographers’ group from the lawsuit.’ He continues:


Google had also argued that a class action was not appropriate because many authors were in favor of having their works appear in the company’s search results. Chin’s ruling means the stage is now set for a trial on whether Google’s decision to scan millions of books amounted to fair use under copyright law. This fair use question has triggered passionate debate among lawyers and scholars, and reflects Google’s position at the time it was sued by the Authors Guild and a consortium of publishers in 2005.

While lawyers for Google did not respond to the Associated Press’ request for comment, the Authors Guild swiftly distributed a news release. In it, executive director Paul Aiken said, “This is a key ruling for all U.S. authors whose literary works have been appropriated by Google.” The release continues:

The class of authors includes all U.S. authors and their heirs with a copyright interest in books scanned by Google as part of its Library Project. Google has scanned 12 million books in that project, the majority of which are believed to be protected by copyright. Books from all over the world were copied, but U.S. works predominate. Google’s liability for copyright infringement has not yet been determined by the court. Google’s primary defense to infringement is that its actions are protected by fair use.

The Google Books project has been in legal limbo, which now is likely to be extended further. The Google Books settlement had proposed solutions for orphan works -- books whose copyright status is unclear -- that had been particularly objectionable to some author representatives. The Authors Guild notes, ‘If Google is found liable for infringement, copyright law prescribes statutory damages for willful infringement at not less than $750 and not more than $30,000 per work.’


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-- Carolyn Kellogg