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Writers Battling Uphill Against Google

As many of us expected, Google has been sued for digitizing library books without seeking permission from copyright holders. The Authors Guild and three writers sued the search-engine giant in a New York federal court, claiming Google's actions amounted to a "massive copyright infringement."
The plaintiffs, who include 1973 U.S. Poet Laureate Daniel Hoffman, are confident they have a sure win against Google. Paul Aiken, executive director of the Guild and a lawyer, told me he doesn't think the legal battle is even close. But copyright experts recently interviewed by InternetWeek believe differently.

On Google's side is a 2003 case, Kelly vs. Arriba Soft Corp., in which a photographer sued a search engine for displaying thumbnail images of work that originally appeared on his Web site.

The photographer claimed copyright infringement, but the Ninth Circuit ruled against him, saying that the act of copying the material, even for commercial purposes, was not exploitative and therefore was fair use. The case appears to fit the current legal squabble exactly, and that favors Google.

Ultimately, the courts will decide whether Google has gone too far, and should be reined in. But since this case gets to the heart of Google's mission to make all of the world's information searchable, I believe it will spend whatever is needed in legal fees to win. And unless writers can dig up some stronger case law, they may have to live with having a little less control over their work.

Drop me an email to let me know what you think.