Google Books' college library scanning project has had a lawsuit filed against it, just days before settlement talks about a first lawsuit. Image: Flickr / cybrgrl / CC-BY

The Google Books project has gotten off to a rough start. A long-running lawsuit, currently in settlement talks, claims Google Books violates copyright law. A new lawsuit, filed in the last few days, seeks to stop an effort to digitize college library collections.

The original Google Books lawsuit

In 2005, the Authors Guild sued Google Inc. for copyright violations. The Google Books project scanned and stored hundreds of thousands of books, making them digitally searchable. Google Books would display a few lines of text that matched the user’s search query, which authors and copyright holders felt was violating copyright. Originally, Authors’ Guild and Google came to a settlement that would have required Google to pay copyright owners for any further access to those works. The agreement, however, was rejected by the judge responsible for approving the settlement. A new settlement conference is planned for late September.

A new lawsuit for Google Books

Just a few days before the Google Books settlement conference, The Authors’ Guild has filed a new lawsuit, naming five universities and HathiTrust, their library partnership organization, as defendants. The Australian Society of Authors, eight individual authors and Union Des Écrivaines et des Écrivains Québécois all joined as plaintiffs. This lawsuit claims Google Books and the libraries violated copyright by providing universities with the digitized copies of the books. The HathiTrust partnership was allowing Google to scan books classified as orphaned or with untraceable copyright claims.

The problem of orphaned books

The problem with the latest HathiBooks v. Google Books lawsuit is the complication of orphaned books. These are out-of-print books without a clear copyright claim or with copyright owners that are difficult or impossible to track down. Many universities have thousands of these. This means that these books will likely not be reprinted, and there is nobody to contact about the copyright. Google Books has, thus far, scanned about 5 million books from the University of Michigan’s library. The authors and The Authors’ Guild say these books are being scanned without permission of the copyright holders. The lawsuit asks for the Google Books project to stop scanning the books and destroy any available digital copies.


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