Authors Guild Sues Google over Library Project

September 23, 2005

The Authors Guild, a professional group representing more than 8,000 writers, has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan charging that Google’s project to digitize books from libraries and make them searchable online represents “massive copyright infringement.”

“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.”

The plaintiffs, who also seek class-action status, damages, and an injunction to stop the digitizing, also include former New York Times editorial writer Herbert Mitgang, children’s author Betty Miles, and former U.S. Poet Laureate Daniel Hoffman; each owns copyright on at least one book in the collection of the University of Michigan, one of several major research libraries participating in the project.

“We regret that this group chose to sue us over a program that will make millions of books more discoverable to the world—especially since any copyright holder can exclude their books from the program,” wrote Susan Wojcicki, Google vice president of product management, on the company’s blog. “Google respects copyright. The use we make of all the books we scan through the Library Project is fully consistent with both the fair use doctrine under U.S. copyright law and the principles underlying copyright law itself, which allow everything from parodies to excerpts in book reviews.”

University of Michigan Associate Provost and Interim Librarian James Hilton defended the project: “We continue to be enthusiastic about our partnership with Google, and we are confident that this project complies with copyright law. The overarching purpose of copyright law is to promote progress in society. In doing so, it is always a balancing act between the limited rights of the author and the rights of the public.”

Google previously announced a suspension of its digitization efforts until November, following concerns raised by publishers’ groups such as the Association of American Publishers and the Association of American University Presses.

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