Does This Spell BIG TROUBLE for Google Books?

In a setback for Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), a federal judge has ruled that groups representing authors and photographers are allowed to start a class-action lawsuit against the company’s alleged unauthorized book-scanning. Google had argued that a class action was not appropriate because many authors were in favor of having their works appear in the company’s search results.

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Earlier this month, Google had also requested the court to remove The Authors Guild and a separate photographers’ group from the lawsuit. However, Judge Denny Chin ruled that a trial on whether the company’s decision to scan millions of books amounted to fair use under copyright law can now begin.

Chin denied Google’s objection that groups like The Authors Guild should not be allowed to participate because they are associations, not individuals. “… the Authors Guild has played an integral part in every stage of this litigation since its inception almost seven years ago,” Chin ruled. “Furthermore, given the sweeping and undiscriminating nature of Google’s unauthorized copying, it would be unjust to require that each affected association member litigate his claim individually.”

Chin also rejected Google’s argument that a class action was inappropriate since a survey of authors showed that 57 percent “approved” of appearing in Google’s results, since this did not disqualify the remaining authors from suing.

The lawsuit, originally filed in 2005, had been put on hold for years as Google, The Authors Guild, and publishers worked on a settlement, but that scenario fizzled out in March after Chin ruled it was more of a business arrangement than a traditional class action. Last year, the American Society of Media Professionals filed their own class-action suit on behalf of photographers and illustrators.

“As we’ve said all along, we are confident that Google Books is fully compliant with copyright law. Today’s decision doesn’t determine the underlying merits of the case, nor does it resolve the lawsuit,” Google said in a statement on Thursday.

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