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Google Loses Bid to Dismiss Claims in Digital Book Case

Google Inc. lost a court bid to dismiss claims by groups including the Author’s Guild and the American Society of Media Photographers in two lawsuits over electronic books.

U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin in New York, sitting as a federal trial judge in the case, rejected Google’s arguments that the groups lacked standing to sue over claims the search engine company’s digital scanning of millions of books infringed the copyright owners’ rights.

Chin also granted a request for three individual plaintiffs to represent a nationwide class of copyright holders in the Author’s Guild suit.

“Given the sweeping and undiscriminating nature of Google’s unauthorized copying, it would be unjust to require that each affected association member litigate his claim individually,” the judge said.

“When Google copied works, it did not conduct an inquiry into the copyright ownership of each work; nor did it conduct an individualized evaluation as to whether posting ‘snippets’ of a particular work would constitute ‘fair use.’”

The suits stem from Google’s plan, announced in 2004, to digitally scan books from public and university libraries to provide short snippets of text to people who use its Internet search engine. The Authors Guild, individual authors and publishing companies sued in 2005, claiming the Mountain View, California-based company hadn’t sought authorization from the owners of the works.

‘Fully Compliant’

“As we’ve said all along, we are confident that Google Books is fully compliant with copyright law,” Maggie Shiels, a Google spokeswoman, said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “Today’s decision doesn’t determine the underlying merits of the case, nor does it resolve the lawsuit.”

Google has argued that the display of snippets of text is fair use under copyright law. Chin asked Google yesterday why it was important at this stage of the case to determine the ownership of the copyrights.

Google said in a February court filing that it has scanned more than 20 million books, and that Web users can see excerpts in English from more than 4 million of them. The project began with the digitizing of books from the libraries of the University of Michigan, Harvard University, Stanford University, Oxford University and the New York Public Library.

The judge last year declined to approve a proposed settlement, saying it was “an attempt to use the class action mechanism to implement forward-looking business arrangements that go far beyond the dispute before the court.”

The authors’ case is Authors Guild v. Google, 05-08136; the visual artists’ case is American Society of Media Photographers v. Google, 10-02977; U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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