Authors lose class status in Google digital books case

Mon Jul 1, 2013 1:38pm EDT
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By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - Google Inc notched a legal victory in its bid to create the world's largest digital books library, winning the reversal of a court order that had allowed authors challenging the project to sue as a group.

A panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said Circuit Judge Denny Chin prematurely certified a class of authors without first deciding if the "fair use" defense under U.S. copyright law allowed Google to display snippets of books.

The three-judge panel also signaled it may prove improper to allow a class action on behalf of potentially hundreds of thousands of writers arguing that the Google Books Library Project improperly copied their works without permission.

"Putting aside the merits of Google's claim that plaintiffs are not representative of the certified class — an argument which, in our view, may carry some force — we believe that the resolution of Google's fair use defense in the first instance will necessarily inform and perhaps moot our analysis of many class certification issues," the panel said.

A class action would let The Authors Guild, an association of authors, and others sue as a group rather than individually, potentially resulting in higher awards and lower legal costs.

Google has scanned more than 20 million books after partnering in 2004 with major libraries around the world such as the Harvard University library and the New York Public Library.

The lawsuit began in 2005, and Google has estimated that it could eventually owe more than $3 billion if The Authors Guild, which has demanded $750 for each scanned book, were to prevail.

"We're obviously disappointed," Michael Boni, a lawyer for The Authors Guild, said in a phone interview. "We're going to litigate the fair use now, and that is the shooting match."   Continued...

An employee rides her bike past a logo next to the main entrance of the Google building in Zurich July 9, 2009. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann