Google was dealt a serious blow on Thursday as a federal judge in New York ruled that groups representing authors and photographers can now move forward with a class action lawsuit. It's the latest development in the long-running case that began with Google's unauthorized scanning of physical books over seven years ago.
Judge Denny Chin ruled on Thursday in a written decision that class action is "more efficient and effective than requiring thousands of authors to sue individually." Requiring each author to sue Google individually would risk "disparate results" in nearly identical lawsuits. It would also "exponentially increase the cost of litigation."
Google was originally sued by the Authors' Guild and publishers back in 2005 for building the Google Books library by scanning in physical books. Google has argued that it has been in full compliance with copyright law, and has scanned in more than 20 million books thus far. Even more, Google hasn't displayed complete scanned books, only small portions.
Eventually Google decided to negotiate with the Authors' Guild and publishers, and the lawsuits were put on hold for years while all said parties hammered out the details of a massive settlement. But the negotiations collapsed in March 2011 when Judge Chin called the negotiations a "bridge too far," or rather, a "business arrangement [that's] more than a traditional class action."
After that, everyone went their separate ways. Publishers have been signing bilateral agreements with Google, but the Authors' Guild decided to resurrect the 2005 lawsuit anyway. The American Society of Media Professionals also joined the fight by filing its own class action suit on behalf of photographers and illustrators.
Google recently tried to have the Authors' Guild lawsuit kicked out by telling the court that it's an association, not individuals. Judge Chin disagreed in Thursday's response.
"The Authors Guild has played an integral part in every stage of this litigation since its inception almost seven years ago," he said. "Furthermore, 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."
As PaidContent states, the green light for a class action doesn't mean Google is guilty of copyright infringement -- it means that fair use under copyright law will likely go under the microscope. Google's actions have been a subject of debate between lawyers and scholars ever since the company was first sued back in 2005.
"Fair use allows people to use copyrighted material in certain situations such as research or reporting without having to pay the author," PaidContent reports. "The rule is critical for sharing knowledge and creativity, but scholars and lawyers are torn about where to draw the boundaries."