Google granted right to appeal class status in digital books lawsuit

Google has the right to challenge the class status assigned to thousands of authors, photographers, and visual artists suing the search giant over its digital books library, a US federal appeals court has said.

The order, handed down by the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, has given Google permission to appeal a 31 May decision that allowed plaintiffs to sue collectively, rather than as individuals. The class status certification, which includes the Author’s Guild and the American Society of Media Photographers, would likely result in a larger settlement or reward than if lawsuits were pursued individually.

The case, which dates back to 2005, could potentially cost Google billions of dollars, as the Author’s Guild has demanded a $750 (£480) fine per book for the more than 20 million books the company has already scanned. Excerpts from four million of those texts can be seen online.

Pointing to the alleged “sweeping and undiscriminating nature of Google's unauthorized copying,” the 31 May ruling by US Circuit Judge Denny Chin posited that forcing complainants to sue individually would incur substantially higher legal costs and would not lead to uniform results for plaintiffs.

But in its objection to the class status, Google argued that examining each case individually was necessary to determine the extent to which fair use laws applied to each work. There would be no “common answer” to address the multitudes of lawsuits, even if they brought forth similar concerns, the company said.

"Plaintiffs seek to shut down a significant part of Google Books and to recover potentially billions of dollars," Google said. "With so much at stake, Google should not be forced to litigate without the full benefit of its principal defense."

In July, the search giant called for the lawsuit to be dismissed, alleging that there has been no evidence that authors have suffered economically as result of having their works included in its searchable index. Google went further, suggesting that its digital books library was a boon for some authors, as the service facilitates the discovery and purchase of their books.

Earlier this year, French book publishers agreed to let Google digitise out-of-print texts and make them available in its library.