Writer Groups Not Backing Down In Fight With Google

At this point it's looking likely that at least one author's organization will go to court to try to stop Google's book-copying project.
Google Inc. on Wednesday appeared more likely to face a legal challenge over its book-copying project, as a writers' group said it was "pessimistic" over the chances of avoiding the courts.

The Text and Academic Authors Association is the latest group to publicly join others representing authors and publishers in denouncing Google's plans to resume in November scanning and storing in its database copyrighted books from libraries. Despite opposition, the search engine giant has given no indication it will change its plans, which Google argues is legal.

"It's a matter of interpretation that ultimately will have to be resolved by the courts, if Google insists that it does not have to go to the copyright holder of each book," Richard T. Hull, executive director of the TAA, said in an interview Wednesday.

Asked whether a lawsuit can be avoided, Hull said. "I'm pessimistic."

The TAA, which represents text and academic authors, recently issued a statement saying Google was "backwards" in its logic of copying books, unless the copyright holder tells it not to. Groups representing publishers and writers argue that Google should approach them, and negotiate a fee.

In addition, the TAA said, Google's position was "in conflict with both the spirit and the law of copyright."

In an interview with TechWeb this month, Adam Smith, product manager for Google Print, said the Mountain View, Calif., company believes its actions are "allowed under fair use and is consistent with all the principles underlying copyright law itself." Book publishers, however, argue that fair use under the law only applies to using portions of books for educational or non-commercial activities.

Unless it has permission to display more, Google says it shows only a small portion of copyrighted material in search results. Hull, however, said that wasn't always true, pointing out that searching for a commonly used term in a book will deliver many pages of copyrighted material.

Indeed, a search for the philosopher Martin Heidegger, in the book "Martin Heidegger On The Way," edited by Hull, delivered many pages, one at a time.

"Anybody who's clever enough can download the entire book," Hull said.

Not true, said Jim Gerber, director of content partnerships for Google. "Martin Heidegger On The Way," for example, was submitted to Google by the publisher. Under those circumstances, people would only be allowed to see a maximum of 20 percent of the book, and a percentage of random pages are blocked completely.

In the case of copyrighted library books that are copied without permission from the copyright holder, Google only displays basic information so the viewer knows the book exists and where is can be found, such as a library or retailer, Gerber said. Google makes no money off the links to a retailer, or if the book is bought through the merchant. The search engine also doesn't sell advertising for the book pages.

"We do not collect a dime from the retailer," Gerber said. "We don't collect any money, when the user buys these books."

In opposing Google, TAA joins the the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, the Association of American University Presses and the Association of American Publishers.

Google announced its library project in December, starting with collections in Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan, the University of Oxford and The New York Public Library. Besides expanding its network of search advertising, the project could someday put Google into direct competition with giant Internet retailer, experts say.

Book publishers are not the only ones rankled over Google's handling of copyrighted material. Adult magazine publisher Perfect 10 Inc. is asking a federal court in Los Angeles to prevent Google from displaying pictures and links to the company's copyrighted photos.

The Beverly Hills, Calif., magazine publisher, which sued Google in November 2004, has asked the court to hear its request for a preliminary injunction Nov. 7.