Magazine article Information Today

A Win for Google Books ... Maybe

Magazine article Information Today

A Win for Google Books ... Maybe

Article excerpt

In 2004, Google announced a new project that would expand its web search capabilities by adding a wealth of new content, which would be created by scanning books from some of the great academic libraries of the world.

The social goal of the project was to bring the world a massive collection of historical, literary, and scholarly knowledge that had previously been limited to just a few researchers in a few libraries. However, Google's economic goal was to expand the value of its search engine business and perhaps create its own content database that could become a marketable asset. Originally called the Google Print Library Project, it became known as Google Books.

Scanning books involves copying books. Making those scans available on searchable servers also involves making copies, sometimes countless copies, as well as opening up "snippets" of content to anyone with a web browser. To no one's surprise, copyright owners of the books in the Google Books project objected, and lawsuits were filed in 2005 by several publishers, the Authors Guild (an association that represents authors), as well as individual authors as a class action lawsuit.

Settlements Rejected

The history of the lawsuit has been well-documented in Information Today and other sources, including the proposed settlements in 2009 and 2011. Both settlements proposed the creation of a massive database containing the scanned books that Google would license for subscription and individual sale and that Google would pay an initial fixed fee to copyright owners, plus royalties for ongoing use. In 2011, a court rejected the proposed settlements, suggesting that they violated both copyright and antitrust laws, and the lawsuit continued.

But the end may be in sight. On July 1, 2013, a federal appeals court handed Google a major--but not necessarily conclusive--victory in rejecting the individual author's class action status. The decision also ordered the lower court to consider Google's claim that its scanning was permitted by copyright's Fair Use doctrine. Between those two factors, Google appears to be in a much stronger position to ultimately prevail in the ongoing lawsuit. The question is whether it will be the kind of win that Google really wants.

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Class Action Allowed

As an association, the Authors Guild represents its members by pursuing their collective interest, including interest in protecting copyrights. It was in that capacity that the organization has been pursuing the litigation against Google since 2005. (As I mentioned, several publishers also were involved in the lawsuit. After the broad settlement was rejected in 2011, the publishers reached separate settlements with Google.) Once the litigation went back on track after the proposed settlement was nixed, the Authors Guild formally petitioned the court to serve as a representative of its members. In addition, several individual authors petitioned the court to certify the case as a class action suit so that all authors, both those in the guild and those not in the guild, could collectively pursue the case. Google resisted both those petitions, but they were approved by the trial court in 2012.

Google then appealed the class action decision to the federal appeals court. (Google did not appear to appeal the decision allowing the Authors Guild to represent its members.) In a surprisingly brief decision of less than five pages, the appeals court overruled the trial court in finding that the trial court should have done something prior to deciding on the class action petition. …

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