In a brief filed late Friday in New York, Google argued that a class action trial would deny it an opportunity to argue on a book-by-book basis that its scanning was a so-called “transformative” use that falls outside of copyright. This “fair use” argument received a boost in October when a judge dismissed a similar case that the Authors Guild brought against a group of university libraries over a digital collection known as the Hathi Trust.
The new filing by Google is just the latest twist in a case that began in 2005 when publishers and the Authors Guild sued the search giant over its ambitious plan to scan the world’s libraries. The parties eventually reached a settlement that would have created a market for millions of forgotten, out-of-print books but US Judge Denny Chin blew up the deal in 2011 after critics warned it would create a monopoly. The publishers recently dropped their lawsuit against Google but the Authors Guild is pressing on with demands for $750 per book. While the search giant has scanned more than 20 million books, only a relative handful would qualify for compensation under the lawsuit due to legal technicalities.
Overall, the Authors Guild case turns on whether Google’s scanning was “fair use.” Ordinarily, copying an entire work is not fair use but Google argues that its scanning qualifies because the digital copies don’t compete with the existing books but add “something new” — “a greatly improved way of finding them.” The company also argues that the scanned books, which can be seen only in small snippets, do not hurt the market for the original book.
While this is the argument in the bigger picture, Google’s appeal on Friday targets a more narrow question: should the authors be permitted to sue together. Google says they should not because most authors actually approve of the scanning, and that these authors shouldn’t be dragged into a legal action with those who don’t:
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