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Google Can Appeal Group Status of Digital-Book Case

Google Inc. can appeal the class-action status granted to a lawsuit over digital books, a federal appeals court in New York said today.

U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin in New York, sitting as a federal trial judge in the case, in May granted class-action or group status to a series of plaintiffs, including the Author’s Guild and the American Society of Media Photographers in lawsuits over electronic books.

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

The appeals court today granted Google leave to appeal the class-action ruling while the case is still pending before Chin.

“Upon due consideration, it is hereby ordered that the petition is granted,” said Richard Wesley and Peter Hall, both judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York.

In July, Google asked Chin to dismiss the Authors Guild case, arguing that authors benefit from the project because their books can be more readily found, bought and read, while the public gains “increased knowledge.” Google also argued that the display of snippets of text is fair use under copyright law and that the authors haven’t been harmed by the display.

Arguments Rejected

In his May ruling, Chin also 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.

Maggie Shiels, a spokeswoman for Google, declined to comment on the court’s ruling.

The suits stem from Google’s plan, announced in 2004, to digitally scan books from public and university libraries to provide short excerpts 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.

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

Digitizing Books

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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