An important legal ruling was handed down yesterday by Judge Denny Chin in the five-year-old Authors Guild v. Google class action lawsuit over Google’s scanning of millions of in-copyright books.
(A bit of history on the dispute: Google has argued that the scanning–intended to build a the world’s biggest digital library–as well as the display of snippets of text from the scanned books, is fair use under copyright law, while the Authors Guild holds that the scans create new editions, for which copyright holders’ permission should have been sought. A sweeping–and widely criticized–settlement in the case was rejected last year by Judge Chin.)
Google had sought to have the Authors Guild (and, in a separate lawsuit, the American Society of Media Photographers) dismissed from the case, arguing that the group didn’t have standing to sue. Judge Chin disagreed, and granted class certification to authors in the Authors Guild suit.
In his decision, Judge Chin dismissed Google’s arguments against class certification, concluding:
Class action is the superior method for resolving this litigation. It is, without question, more efficient and effective than requiring thousands of authors to sue individually. Requiring this case to be litigated on an individual basis would risk disparate results in nearly identical suits and exponentially increase the cost of litigation…Class action, by contrast, would achieve economies of time and effort, resolving common legal and factual issues “without sacrificing procedural fairness or bringing about other undesirable results.”
The Authors Guild released the following statement:
Our book-scanning lawsuit against Google cleared a major hurdle today, as Judge Denny Chin certified the class of U.S. authors…
The class of authors includes all U.S. authors and their heirs with a copyright interest in books scanned by Google as part of its Library Project. Google has scanned 12 million books in that project, the majority of which are believed to be protected by copyright. Books from all over the world were copied, but U.S. works predominate.
Google’s liability for copyright infringement has not yet been determined by the court. Google’s primary defense to infringement is that its actions are protected by fair use. Judge Chin is scheduled to hear summary judgment motions on the case in September.
If Google is found liable for infringement, copyright law prescribes statutory damages for willful infringement of not less than $750 and not more than $30,000 per work.
As we’ve said all along, we are confident that Google Books is fully compliant with copyright law. Today’s decision doesn’t determine the underlying merits of the case, nor does it resolve the lawsuit.