Google's Library Scanning Project Heads to Court

Many predicted that the copyright issues that surround Google's library book scanning project would end up in court. Today those predictions came true.

This afternoon, the 8000 member Authors Guild and three individual authors, including a former Poet Laureate of the United States, filed a class action lawsuit in federal court against Google over the Google Library book scanning project which is part of Google Print.

From the news release:

The suit alleges that the $90 billion search engine and advertising juggernaut is engaging in massive copyright infringement at the expense of the rights of individual writers....This is a plain and brazen violation of copyright law,” said Authors Guild president Nick Taylor. “It's not up to Google or anyone other than the authors, the rightful owners of these copyrights, to decide whether and how their works will be copied.”

More in the news release and this story by Elinor Mills.

What does Google have to say about the lawsuit? Google's Nate Tyler told SEW:

The Google Print program respects copyright. We regret that this group has chosen litigation to try to stop a program that will make books and the information within them more discoverable to the world. Google Print directly benefits authors and publishers by increasing awareness of and sales of the books in the program. And, if they choose, authors and publishers can exclude books from the program if they don't want their material included. Copyrighted books are indexed to create an electronic card catalog and only snippets of the books are shown unless the content owner gives permission to show more.

Over the past few months we've blogged about major concerns over the Google Library scanning project from several publishing trade groups. However, as far as I know, no legal action has been filed by any of these groups.

For more on Google Library see:

Postscript From Danny:

Google Print and the Authors Guild
on the official Google blog has a reaction to the suit, illustrating that only tiny, tiny portions of copyrighted
works would be shown and defending the project as being consistent with copyright law.

Via BoingBoing, a copy of the legal complaint is here (PDF). BoingBoing also points to this EFF article saying (as some of the articles above have already covered) that Google may have a good fair use argument. The EFF article points to this analysis (PDF) by Jonathan Band looking at how the complaints compare when measured up against the limited case law we have about search engine indexing.

I agree with the paper, especially the point as I've written before that
search engines already supposedly infringement copyright in the way publishers
describe for web indexing, and have done so for years and to some of these
publishers' own web sites, without them complaining. More on that from me in
these articles:

However, on the fair use front, I recently discussed on in some circumstances, even the tiny snippets shown could potentially be found to do real harm to an author. It would be rare, but possible, and might be a reason for Google to adopt a policy of not showing anything content at all beyond book title and maybe table of contents, for books which is doesn't have explicit copyright permission. The article below has more on that:

Want to discuss or comment? Visit our forum thread, Google Sued Over Google Print Library Scanning.