Court Rules Against Class-Action Certification in Google Books Case

Google Books

Google Books has been fighting charges of copyright infringement for a few years now concerning the company's scanning of millions of books for its online database. The Authors Guild sued in 2005 on behalf of all authors in the United States who had at least one book scanned and indexed by Google Books, originally making this a class-action lawsuit. This class-action certification was upheld in the lower courts.

On July 1st, an appeals court overturned the class-action certification, saying that the fair-use issues should have been decided first.

On the particular facts of this case, we conclude that class certification was premature in the absence of a determination by the District Court of the merits of Google’s fair use defense. Accordingly, we vacate the June 11, 2012 order certifying the class and remand the cause to the District Court, for consideration of the fair use issues, without prejudice to any future motion for class certification.

So basically, the ruling says that the only way we can know whether or not this is a class-action case is first to determine how (or whether) Google Books violated the fair-use doctrine. Google's defense could require each book in the database to be examined individually to determine whether or not it has legal standing to pursue a case. However, a ruling of broad violations (such as a ruling that says Google's preview "snippets" are in violation of copyright law) may allow the class-certification to be reinstated, and authors can again sue as a single group if their work has been scanned by Google.

Google Books paints itself as the future of the written word, and it wants to eventually scan and index all of the estimated 129 million unique books in existence. However, this digitizing of information without author and publisher permission sets a potentially damaging precedent for copyright holders.

What's your take?

Nathan Scalia

News by Nathan Scalia

Nathan Scalia earned a BA degree in psychology and considered medical school long enough to realize that he missed reading real books. He then went on to earn a Master's in Library Science and is currently working in a school library. He has written several new articles and columns for LitReactor, served for a time as the site's Community Manager, and can be found in the Writer's Workshop with some frequency.

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Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore July 5, 2013 - 8:39am

I admit it can be very handy as a nonfic research tool without leaving your desktop, but those authors are no less deserving of compensation for their work. I remember looking up a short story by an author I'd heard great things about, and was able to read the entire thing in a Google Books scan, then had no reason to purchase the collection it was a part of (I did anyway, though). This is different from an Amazon preview. And being searchable, you're gonna go find the little bit of into you need in the scan and then move on, as with nearly everything else online. They do at least post sidebar links to places where you can buy the book. And I've yet to see others' ads on their Books pages.

You could argue it's no different an experience than what you could do in a library. Would we feel the same if a nonprofit took on this same task? Goddammit, I hate being conflicted.

I love Google, and I love free info, but I really don't think it's their place to offer such a service without author/publisher permission.