Google wins round in digital books lawsuit

That long-running legal tussle over Google’s massive effort to digitize the world’s books took another turn on Monday, as a federal appeals court sided with Google and dealt a setback to the Authors Guild in its effort to block the project.

The ruling, by itself, is not the end of the case. But the appellate court decided that, before allowing the lawsuit to move forward as a class action case, a federal judge will have to consider Google’s contention that the plan for presenting brief “snippets” of millions of books is a “fair use” under copyright law.

In other words, before the case goes to a full-blown trial, Google will be allowed to present its argument that the plan is reasonable and won’t cause substantial financial harm to the authors or other copyright holders. If Judge Denny Chin agrees with that defense, that could end the case.

Chin, however, has made several previous rulings that weren’t so favorable to Google during the long-running case – including a 2011 decision in which the judge rejected a tentative settlement that Google had worked out with the authors’ group and other parties.

The judge also ruled last year that the Authors Guild could pursue the case as a class action on behalf of all authors, even though Google argued that many authors would benefit from the project. Google’s appeal of that decision prompted the appeals court to rule on Monday that the class certification was “premature.”

The key quote in the appellate court’s five-page decision:

Putting aside the merits of Google’s claim that plaintiffs are not representative of the certified class – an argument which, in our view, may carry some force – we believe that the resolution of Google’s fair use defense in the first instance will necessarily inform and perhaps moot our analysis of many class certification issues . . .

If the fair-use argument holds water, the court may never have to bother deciding who has standing and whether the case should be argued as a class action. And even before that, Monday’s ruling could put more pressure on the Authors Guild and Google to settle their dispute out of court.





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  • Google should be allowed to proceed. To me, this is a very clear example of fair use and those publishers trying to bring the tort need to go fish.