AAP Files Lawsuit Against Google

Kevin Canfield

In October the Association of American Publishers (AAP) filed a federal lawsuit against online search engine Google over its plans to digitally copy and distribute copyrighted works without permission of the copyright owners. The AAP filed the lawsuit on behalf of five major publishing houses—Simon & Schuster, Penguin USA, John Wiley & Sons, McGraw-Hill, and Pearson Education.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in New York, followed a similar suit filed by the Authors Guild, a membership organization of published book writers, in September. The AAP claims that the Google Print Library Project, an initiative announced in late 2004 that involves the scanning of millions of books from the collections of three American academic libraries—at Harvard University, Stanford University, and the University of Michigan—would violate its members’ copyright protections. Using pages from the scanned books, Google plans to create an online, searchable database. Oxford University and the New York Public Library are also participating in the Google Print Library Project but have agreed to include only books in the public domain, excluding any works still protected by copyright.

Google stopped scanning copyrighted works from Harvard, Stanford, and Michigan, in August 2005, after some publishers raised concerns about the project’s alleged copyright infringement. As part of the self-imposed hiatus, which lasted until November 1, Google offered publishers the chance to opt out and exclude particular books from the program. Patricia Schroeder, president of the AAP, which represents nearly three hundred publishing houses, said Google’s offer was not good enough.

“We think this is one of the most serious things for writers and intellectual property holders that there is,” says Schroeder, a former congresswoman from Colorado who served on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property. “Google is basically trying to rewrite the copyright laws that have been on the books forever.” Despite the filing of the AAP lawsuit, Google resumed scanning books on November 1.

The Google Print Library Project, Schroeder concedes, is essentially “an online library,” but one that operates on behalf of “a megaprofit company with advertising that tracks you everywhere you go,” she says. “They’re taking everybody’s work without paying for it—at least a library pays for the book.” Schroeder says her organization wants the court to hold that the AAP’s interpretation of copyright law is the correct one. Such a ruling could force Google to substantially revamp its Print Library Project.

Google did not return phone calls seeking comment, but David Drummond, the company’s general counsel and vice president for corporate development, discussed the suit on the search engine’s official blog. “This program, which will make millions of books easier for everyone in the world to find, is crucial to our company’s mission,” he wrote. “We’re dedicated to helping the world find information, and there’s too much information in books that cannot yet be found online. We think you should be able to search through every word of every book ever written, and come away with a list of relevant books to buy or find at your local library.”

Google maintains that the Print Library Project does not allow Web users to view the entire contents of a given book. Rather, users can search for keyword phrases and see relevant portions of the text, which Google believes are protected by fair use under copyright law.

Though an AAP press release says the decision to sue was the result of “an overwhelming vote of support of the twenty-member AAP board,” there is not universal agreement within the publishing community.

“The fundamental goal of copyright in the Constitution is not to confer an absolute property right but rather to stimulate cultural production: a limited property right being a means to that end, rather than an end in itself," wrote Soft Skull Press publisher Richard Nash on the press’s Web site. “Thus we are always intrinsically talking about relative values, trade-offs, balancing acts, etc. Having the world's books available in searchable and granular format online is a tremendous boon to the culture, and will result in more and better books.”

The Google Print Library Project is separate from the company’s Print Publisher Program, which involves the scanning of books that publishers have voluntarily made available, and is not targeted in the lawsuit.

As of this writing, the suit filed by the AAP is pending.