Google Resumes Book-Scanning Project

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Google says it will soon resume scanning books that have been protected by copyright into its Google Print database, despite two lawsuits charging the company with copyright infringement.

In August, Google said it would hold off on scanning copyrighted books until November 1 so that publishers would have more time to tell Google which books they didn't want scanned. Google now says it will start scanning all copyrighted works held in collections by its library partners but said the exact date of when it will begin doing so again was still to be determined.

Lawsuits Still Pending

Google Print is an initiative from Google to scan books into a database that can be searched by users. Two groups, The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers, have filed lawsuits against Google because, they say, Google is infringing copyrights by scanning books that are still protected by copyright.

"I think it's risky," said Bradley Wright, a partner with Banner and Witcoff Ltd., a law firm specializing in intellectual property, commenting on Google's decision to start scanning in copyrighted materials. "There's no question they are copying complete books and under U.S. law that's a copyright violation."

Google has offered to allow authors to opt out of the program. However, historically copyright law has required content users to expressly ask for permission before using the content, rather than assume that the permission is granted unless told otherwise. Google continues to maintain that the Google Print program constitutes fair use and complies with copyright law because users won't be able to access entire works, only snippets.

Google said that when it starts scanning copyrighted books again, it will focus mainly on older, out-of-print material but that it will include some books that are still in print. The older books are less accessible, the company said, so by scanning them, Google is making these books easier for people to access.

Divided Database

In its statement, Google also emphasized the importance of its publisher program, compared to the library program. Google is filling its Google Print database through two different initiatives. With the library program, libraries allow Google to scan their books but Google can only display bibliographic information plus a couple of sentences around the search term entered by a user, the company said in its statement. With the publisher program, Google works with publishers to gain permission to include books in the database and thus can display more information than for books acquired through the library program.

Depending on the way that contracts are written, publishers in many cases do have the right to reproduce the works they publish and thus would be in the position to negotiate a deal allowing Google to scan in the books they publish without express permission by authors, Wright said.

Each of Google's library partners has a slightly different agreement with Google. The University of Michigan has offered its entire library, including books still under copyright, while other partners including the New York Public Library and Oxford University are offering books whose copyright have expired.

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