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Publishers Sue Google Over Plans to Digitize Copyrighted Books

Google Print Library allegedly violates publishers' and authors' rights

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) yesterday announced the filing of a lawsuit against Google over its plans to digitally copy and distribute copyrighted works without permission of the copyright owners. The lawsuit was filed only after lengthy discussions broke down between AAP and Google's top management regarding the copyright infringement implications of the Google Print Library Project.

The suit, which seeks a declaration by the court that Google commits infringement when it scans entire books covered by copyright and a court order preventing it from doing so without permission of the copyright owner, was filed on behalf of five major publisher members of AAP: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Pearson Education, Penguin Group (USA), Simon & Schuster and John Wiley & Sons.

The suit, which is being coordinated and funded by AAP, has the strong backing of the publishing industry and was filed following an overwhelming vote of support by the 20-member AAP Board which is elected by, and represents, the Association's more than 300 member publishing houses.

"The publishing industry is united behind this lawsuit against Google and united in the fight to defend their rights," said AAP President and former Colorado Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder. "While authors and publishers know how useful Google's search engine can be and think the Print Library could be an excellent resource, the bottom line is that under its current plan Google is seeking to make millions of dollars by freeloading on the talent and property of authors and publishers."

Announced late last year, the Google Print Library Project involves the scanning and digitization of millions of published books from the collections of three major academic libraries -- Stanford University, Harvard University and the University of Michigan -- from which Google plans to create an online, searchable database. Oxford University and the New York Public Library are also participating in the Library Project, but are only making available works in the public domain.

Over the objections voiced by the publishers and in the face of a lawsuit filed earlier by the Authors Guild on behalf of its 8,000 members, Google has indicated its intention to go forward with the unauthorized copying of copyrighted works beginning on November 1.

As a way of accomplishing the legal use of copyrighted works in the Print Library Project, AAP proposed to Google that they utilize the well-known ISBN numbering system to identify works under copyright and secure permission from publishers and authors to scan these works. Since the inception of the ISBN system in 1967, a unique ISBN number has been placed on every book, identifying each book and linking it to a specific publisher. Google "flatly rejected this reasonable proposal," said the AAP in a release.

Noting the existence of new online search initiatives that respect the rights of creators, such as the "Open Content Alliance" involving Yahoo, Hewlett-Packard, Adobe and the Internet Archive, Schroeder said: "If Google can scan every book in the English language, surely they can utilize ISBNs. By rejecting the reasonable ISBN solution, Google left our members no choice but to file this suit." As a 12-term Member of Congress, Mrs. Schroeder served as the Ranking Member on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property.

Mrs. Schroeder noted that while "Google Print Library could help many authors get more exposure and maybe even sell more books, authors and publishers should not be asked to waive their long-held rights so that Google can profit from this venture."

The Association of American Publishers is the national trade association of the U.S. book publishing industry. AAP's approximately 300 members include most of the major commercial book publishers in the United States, as well as smaller and non-profit publishers, university presses and scholarly societies. The protection of intellectual property rights in all media, the defense of intellectual freedom, and the promotion of reading and literacy are among the Association's primary concerns.

Google says Why it believes in Google Print, and Google's CEO Eric Schmidt writes about the point of it in the The Wall Street Journal.