Google wins key US court victory against authors

GOOGLE won a significant victory in a New York court yesterday, when a panel of judges said that a digital books case against the web giant should not be treated as a class action.

The decision will be a relief to Google, which could have been liable for claims worth around $3bn (£1.9bn) if it lost a class action case. Class action status means that the plaintiffs could have claimed to represent hundreds of thousands of authors in the case, which revolves around Google’s creation of a digital library in 2004.

Now, authors will have to bring individual cases against the company.

The Google Library project saw the company team up with the world’s big libraries to create a massive archive of more than 20m books. It offered small snippets of books in order to help readers identify them, but the project was quickly met with opposition from authors, who alleged that Google was putting their work online for free.

Google claims that it is allowed to offer small sections of a text under so-called fair use rules.

Writer body The Authors Guild had brought a case against Google in 2005, and proceedings have dragged on in recent years. Google reached a $125m settlement with The Authors Guild in 2008 but it was rejected by a judge in 2011 as unfair to authors.

Last year, The Authors Guild won the right to fight the case as a class action, but yesterday that ruling was overturned. Google says that not all authors have the same control over their work, and so each author’s situation must be viewed separately.

“Putting aside the merits of Google’s claim that plaintiffs are not representative of the certified class... we believe that the resolution of Google's fair use defence in the first instance will necessarily inform and perhaps moot our analysis of many class certification issues,” the panel said.

The Authors Guild case, which could set a precedent, continues.