Those Litigious Scribes: Authors Sue Google

By Tom Peters |

Tuesday three individual authors, as well as the Authors Guild, which represents approximately 8,000 authors, filed a lawsuit against Google over the library portion of its Google Library Project.

The suit (covered on Boing Boing Tuesday), claiming massive copyright infringement, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by lawyers representing Daniel Hoffman, a poet; Betty Miles, a children’s and YA (young adult) author; and Herbert Mitgang, a Lincoln biographer.

All three authors claim to have at least one copyright-protected work in the collections of the University of Michigan library, a partner in the library portion of the Google Print project. The plaintiffs are seeking both an injunction and compensation for damages, and they want this to become a class action suit. They also demand a jury trial. According to the suit, “The Class is initially defined as all persons or entities that hold the copyright to a literary work that is contained in the library of the University of Michigan."

Whereas most corporate entities, when sued, retreat into a “no comment" posture, Google came out swinging. Susan Wojcicki, VP of Product Management, posted a pointed blog entry before the day was done and the ink was dry. Her post includes the following statement, “Google respects copyright. The use we make of all the books we scan through the Library Project is fully consistent with both the fair use doctrine under U.S. copyright law and the principles underlying copyright law itself…."

What impact will this brouhaha have on the definition and reality of fair use as we move farther into the digital era? Is this legal action by the Authors Guild an archaic “guild mentality" at work, trying to protect a vested interest against change? Google has maintained throughout that its Google Print program ultimately will benefit authors and publishers as well as readers.

So, to summarize: The publishers have rattled their sabers, the authors have sued, and the librarians have…?