Google Books is now facing a class-action suit from authors

Authors that are upset that Google created digital copies of their print books now have something to be happy about.  New York federal Judge Denny Chin yesterday granted class-action status to authors suing Google Books for digitally scanning their copyrighted print books.

Prior to the ruling, each author that believed Google had created an illegal copy of their book would have to sue Google individually.  Now every author that believes their copyright was infringed can join in on the class-action suit.

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2005 over Google’s Library Project which began in 2004 as a collaboration between Google and several leading research libraries.  The Library Project is a digitization project that creates digital copies of print books that the libraries had purchased by scanning them.  You can then search on the text in the books and the search will return snippets of the page containing the text.  Google has created digital copies of over 12 million print books since the project was started.

The lawsuit was filed in 2005 because Google was creating digital copies of print books that were still under copyright.  The Authors Guild and book publishers claimed that creating the digital copies was illegal under copyright law.  Google claimed that the scanning of copyrighted books was legal under “fair use”.

Judge Chin’s ruling to give the authors class-action status drastically changes the importance of the lawsuit.  Now the case represents all the authors that had one of their copyrighted books scanned by Google.  That’s a lot of authors given that over 12 million books have been scanned so far.  It brings much more weight to an already important decision in copyright law.

The lawsuit has already impacted many other digitization projects.  The National Digital Public Library of America wants to digitize print books and offer them as ebooks to its patrons.  They decided to only offer ebooks that are in the public domain or that have had their copyright expire.  There is no doubt that this decision was heavily impacted by the Google lawsuit.

Yesterday’s ruling was a significant milestone in an important copyright law case, but the upcoming decision on “fair use” is by far the most important part of this case.  That decision will have a huge impact on all digital libraries and digitization projects for many years to come.