Five major publishers sued Google Inc. yesterday, alleging that the search engine's plans to scan millions of library books so they can be viewed on the Internet is a blatant violation of copyright law.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan, the publishers asked a federal judge to block Google from resuming its scanning of books on Nov. 1. Google had stopped digitizing books while it sought a compromise with publishers.
"If they are allowed to unilaterally change the copyright law and copy anything unless somebody tells you 'no,' it will be impossible for people in the intellectual property community to operate," said Patricia Schroeder, president of the American Association of Publishers. "They keep talking about doing this because it is going to be good for the world. That has never been a principle in law. They 'do no evil' except they are stealing people's property."
In a statement yesterday, Google defended its approach, saying the scanning of millions of library books from the collections of Harvard University, Stanford University, the University of Michigan, the New York Public Library and Oxford University is legal. The search engine said its program will make library books more widely available to readers online.
"This short-sighted attempt to block Google Print works counter to the interests of not just the world's readers, but also the world's authors and publishers," the company said. "Creating an easy to use index of books is fair use under copyright law and supports the purpose of copyright: to increase the awareness and sales of books directly benefiting copyright holders."
Google has said it will resume scanning library books Nov. 1 unless publishers contact the company and specify which books they want excluded. In contrast, a similar effort launched by search competitor Yahoo Inc. automatically excludes volumes protected by copyright, unless publishers and authors grant permission for their use.
"Yahoo is doing it correctly," Schroeder said.
Yesterday's lawsuit by the five publishers -- Simon & Schuster Inc., McGraw-Hill Cos., John Wiley & Sons Inc., Penguin Group (USA) Inc. and Pearson Education Inc. -- follows a class-action lawsuit against Google last month by the Authors Guild, which has 8,000 members. That lawsuit also alleged that Google's library project violated copyright laws.
As an alternative to Google's approach, the publishers proposed that the search engine identify books under copyright using their unique ISBN numbers and then seek permission to scan them from publishers and authors. Google rejected the approach as too cumbersome, Schroeder said.
In return for allowing the company to scan their collections, the library systems would receive a free digitized version of their books from Google, which announced the library initiative in December 2004. Google has said that to protect authors and publishers and stimulate sales, it would show only "snippets" from books under copyright.