Back To Square One In The Google Books Lawsuit

It’s been more than six years since the Authors Guild first sued Google (NSDQ: GOOG) for scanning books. Today, with a proposed settlement in tatters, the writers group took a fresh step to revive the case and move it towards a trial.

In a motion filed in New York federal court, the Authors Guild asked Judge Denny Chin to certify the class of authors suing Google. This is a common procedural step in any class action suit and amounts to plaintiffs asking the court’s permission to bring a lawsuit on behalf of everyone else in the same position (in this case, every US author whose copyrighted work has been scanned by Google).

This is essentially where the authors were in 2005 when Google first partnered with dozens of libraries to create a digital collection that today numbers at least 14 million titles. The collection is now languishing unread after Judge Chin rejected the Google Book Settlement, an ambitious three-way partnership that would have allowed Google to sell out-of-print books and share the proceeds with publishers and authors.

The difference with the lawsuit this time around is the absence of the publishers who, in 2005, had joined with the authors to stop Google. That is likely because the publishers, after the failure of the settlement, have begun to craft a series of bilateral deals with the search giant.

The original legal issue in the case is whether Google’s book scanning is a fair use that doesn’t violate copyright. The question, which has tantalized scholars and copyright lawyers, is unlikely to be answered anytime soon, however, because the case will be snarled in procedural matters for the foreseeable future.

Google is expected to move to have the case thrown out in coming weeks.

“We are reviewing Plaintiffs’ Motion for Class Certification, and we will be filing our opposition to that motion on January 26, according to the schedule set by the court,” Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker wrote in an email.

For more about today’s filing, see this useful account from Publishers Weekly.