A California district judge this week ruled that a lawsuit against Google over its book digitization effort can be designated as a class action.
The decision means that authors will not have to sue Google individually for copyright infringement over Google Books, which has been scanning books online without permission of the copyright holders, according to the suit.
"We're one big step closer to justice being done for U.S. authors," Authors Guild president Scott Turow said in a statement.
The Authors Guild said the class would include all U.S. authors and their heirs with a copyright interest in books scanned by Google. The Guild said Google has scanned 12 million books, "the majority of which are believed to be protected by copyright."
"As we've said all along we are confident that Google Books is fully compliant with copyright law," a Google spokesman said in a statement. Thursday's decision "doesn't determine the underlying merits of the case, nor does it resolve the lawsuit. As we move forward with the process Google remains committed to opening up access to the knowledge that is contained in millions of hard to find books by making them discoverable online."
As noted by the Author's Guild, Google claims that it is protected by fair use. Judge Denny Chin will hear summary judgment motions on the case in September. If the Guild prevails, it says Google could be held liable for between $750 - $30,000 per work.
The case dates back to 2004, when Google partnered with major university libraries to scan their collections and make them available on the Internet. The Association of American Publishers (AAP) and the Author's Guild sued Google for copyright infringement in 2005. Google announced a $125 million settlement (around £70 million) in 2008, which would've created a registry of online books and allowed U.S. consumers and institutions to purchase access to the material.
A September 2009 review of the deal by the Justice Department, however, questioned whether the court had the power to essentially set up a business arrangement, argued that Google had no incentive to track down the authors of orphan works, and did not believe anyone would be able to adequately compete against Google in the online books arena.
After some back and forth and a revised proposal, Judge Chin overturned the $125 million settlement in March 2011, and essentially ordered both sides to return to the table to negotiate another settlement agreement.
In Sept. 2011, the AAP said it had made "good progress" in reaching a deal with Google on the matter, but that apparently was not enough.