Brought to book

THE AUTHORS Guild in the USA is suing internet search engine Google over uauthorised copying of its members' books. This case could redefine copyright in US law.

Google has agreements with university libraries at Stanford, Harvard, Oxford and Michigan to scan parts of their collections and make the contents searchable.

"This is a plain and brazen violation of copyright law," says Guild president Nick Taylor. "It's not up to Google or anyone other than the authors, the rightful owners of these copyrights, to decide whether and how their works will be copied."

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Google responds that "many of Google Print's chief beneficiaries will be authors whose backlist, out of print and lightly marketed new titles will be suggested to countless readers who wouldn't have found them otherwise." It further says that it makes only brief extracts of books available online where it does not have permission to copy the whole.

Google is clearly copying books onto its vast arrays of computer hard disks. Its lawyers will likely argue, though, that making small extracts available is "fair use" - equivalent to UK "fair dealing". In a letter to the New York Times Taylor says the Guild is defending the principle that authors authorise publishing: "By digitizing mountains of copyrighted books without permission, Google... decides what's good for us and seizes private property to get it done. Legitimate eminent domain is exercised by elected officials... and the owners get paid.

"Let's build a real digital library," he continues: "not just 'snippets'. Writers are willing, but not at the cost of our rights." For more arguments see www.authorsguild.org

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