Federal Court Allows Google To Appeal Class-Action Status In Book Suit

Earlier this year, U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin granted class-action status to authors who were suing Google for infringing copyright with its book digitization project. That move marked a significant setback for Google, which had argued that a class-action wasn't appropriate.

Today, a federal appellate court okayed the company's request to appeal Chin's decision. The move, which marks a victory for Google, is the latest twist in a seven-year old lawsuit by authors and publishers alleging that Google wrongly digitized the books and displayed snippets of them.

Google has always said that the book project is protected by fair use principles, and that the initiative will benefit authors by making it easier for consumers to find, and purchase, books.

The search company specifically argued that the lawsuit shouldn't proceed as a class-action for a few reasons. One is that fair use decisions need to be made on a case-by-case basis. Additionally, Google says that class-action status doesn't make sense because many authors approve of Google's project. To support this point, Google said a commissioned survey showed that 58% of authors 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 hasn't ruled on the fair use questions at the heart of the case, but in May he decided that the authors could proceed as a class-action. Chin said at the time that it wouldn't be fair to require authors to pursue copyright cases individually -- especially when Google didn't make individual decisions about which books to digitize. "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 his 32-page ruling.

Chin also discounted Google's survey, pointing out that the company didn't ask authors whether they wanted to participate in a lawsuit against Google. "It is possible that some authors who 'approve' of Google's actions might still choose to join the class action," he wrote.

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