US authors demand damages in Google Books dispute


A US authors’ group has demanded that Google pays it $750 for each book the Internet company has scanned without authorisation under its Google Books initiative.

In the latest twist in a seven-year legal battle, the Authors Guild has claimed Google had no right to reproduce, distribute and display millions of copyrighted books. The group, which represents more than 8,000 US authors, made the claims in a summary judgment filed at the US Southern District Court of New York on August 3, 2012.

Since late 2004, Google has scanned at least 20 million works, most of which, the Guild believes, are protected by copyright. Internet users can conduct full text searches of the books and read snippets of those protected by copyright. If a book’s copyright has expired, the user can read it in full.

Google has argued the programme amountsto “fair use” under US copyright law. In its own summary judgment, filed on July 27, the Internet company said Google Books provides “enormous” public benefit without reducing the value of authors’ work. “Google Books is an important advance on the card-catalogue method of finding books,” it said.

“Readers benefit by being able to find relevant books. Authors benefit because their books can be more readily found, purchased, and read. The public benefits from the increase of knowledge that results,” it added.

The parties have tried to resolve their dispute, which began in 2005. They proposed a settlement that would have allowed Google to continue digitising books while paying $125 million in royalties each year to the owners of the books being scanned.

But it became clear that it was difficult toestablish whose work Google was scanning. As a result, Judge Denny Chin ruled last year that while digitising books would benefit many, the pact would have allowed Google to “simply go too far”.

The legal wrangling has restarted, and if Google were found liable for copyright infringement it might have to pay billions in damages. But Scott Cleland, a research analyst who has spent 10 years studying Google, said it was still unclear which books Google has actually scanned.

This could lead to a “mind-bending notification problem” he said, and the court could ask Google to find a way of notifying each copyright owner that its work had been infringed.

Judge Chin is set to hear oral arguments on October 9 this year.

This article was first published on 01 September 2012 in World IP Review

google, google books, scott cleland, authors guild

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