In a defeat for Google, a federal judge ruled today that the Authors Guild can continue with its lawsuit accusing the search giant of infringing copyright by digitizing books and displaying snippets of them.
U.S. District Court Judge Denny Chin in New York rejected Google's argument that the Authors Guild lacks "standing" to litigate copyright infringement claims on behalf of its members. Google had argued that copyright claims should be decided on a case-by-case basis, in part because fair use requires individualized assessments.
Chin disagreed, saying it would be "unjust" to require authors to go to court individually. "When Google copied works, it did not conduct an inquiry into the copyright ownership of each work; nor did it conduct an individualized evaluation as to whether posting 'snippets' of a particular work would constitute 'fair use,'" Chin wrote in a 32-page ruling. "Google cannot now turn the tables and ask the Court to require each copyright holder to come forward individually."
Chin also proposed resolving fair use questions by looking at different types of books -- fiction, poetry, cookbooks, etc. -- and then evaluating how Google's program affected each category.
Google also argued that the case shouldn't proceed as a class-action because many authors thought the digitization program had helped them. To demonstrate this point, Google said that a survey it commissioned of more than 500 authors showed that 58% approved of the scanning project, and that 19% said they felt they had benefited (or would benefit) financially from Google's display of snippets.
Chin disagreed with Google on that point as well. "Importantly, the survey did not ask the respondents whether they would want to be part of a lawsuit through which they might recover damages," he wrote. "Indeed, it is possible that some authors who 'approve' of Google's actions might still choose to join the class action."