Court Rules Against Class-Action Certification in Google Books Case
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.
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