NEW YORK (AP) – Just weeks after a leading authors’ organization sued Google for copyright infringement, the Association of American Publishers has also filed suit against the search engine giant’s plans to scan and index books for the internet.
Under the Google Print Library Project, millions of copyrighted books from three major university libraries – Harvard, Stanford and Michigan – will be indexed on the internet unless the copyright holder notifies the company by Nov. 1 about which volumes should be excluded. Two other libraries, Oxford University and the New York Public Library, will contribute only out-of-copyright materials.
Google has called the project an invaluable chance for books to receive increased exposure. The library project is an offshoot of the Google Print program, for which publishers voluntarily submit copyrighted material.
But in papers filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the publishers association sought a ruling that would support an injunction against illegal scanning and cited the "continuing, irreparable and imminent harm publishers are suffering … due to Google’s willful [copyright] infringement to further its own commercial purposes."
The suit named five publishers as plaintiffs: McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education, Penguin Group USA, Simon & Schuster and John Wiley & Sons. The suit seeks recovery of legal costs, but no additional damages.
Google, in a statement issued Wednesday, called the legal action "short-sighted" and said the project was a "historic effort to make millions of books easier for people to find and buy."
"Creating an easy to use index of books is fair use under copyright law and supports the purpose of copyright: to increase the awareness and sales of books directly benefiting copyright holders," David Drummond, Google’s general counsel and vice president, corporate development, said in the statement.
The Authors Guild, which represents about 8,000 writers, filed a class action suit for copyright infringement last month. Besides an injunction, the guild is seeking monetary damages.
Patricia Schroeder, president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers, said Wednesday that the publishers’ lawsuit followed months of negotiations with Google.
"We spent so much time on this I think half of our board ended up having trouble with their families because of canceling vacations," she said.
Publishers worry that Google is scanning entire books, even though just a limited amount of material will be displayed online. The library project’s Nov. 1 deadline, Google’s so-called "opt out" provision, was established over the summer in response to such concerns.
But Schroeder said Wednesday that the company still wrongly placed the burden on copyright holders. By contrast, publishers don’t object to the larger Google Print program because nothing would be used without explicit permission.
Google has countered that it does not need permission for the library project and calls the "opt out" clause a courtesy. Google’s Drummond said through spokesman Nathan Tyler that even after Nov. 1, copyright holders can request that material be removed.
The Google controversy reflects a general debate over the internet and copyright law. Even the publishers association acknowledges that the project could benefit the book industry, if rights are respected. Science fiction author Cory Doctorow made his most recent book, "Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town," available for free last summer on the internet, believing that the promotional value greatly outweighed any lost sales.
Schroeder noted that viewpoint, but cited two reasons for still objecting to Google’s program.
"First of all, it sets a dangerous precedent. If you allow Google to do it, you allow anybody to do it. It’s going to be an impossible task for copyright owners to defend themselves," she said.
"Secondly, the whole principal of copyright law is that you get to decide if it’s good for you. Why should Google get to decide?
Earlier this week, Google announced a version of its print program was now available in eight European countries, including France, Germany and Spain.