Photographers sue Google over book scanning

The American Society of Media Photographers is claiming copyright infringement

Google's years-long attempt to create an online library and store with millions of books will face yet another legal hurdle with the filing of a class-action copyright infringement lawsuit by the American Society of Media Photographers.

The lawsuit, which the ASMP filed on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, makes similar claims as the ones filed in 2005 by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) on behalf of authors and publishers.

Essentially, the ASMP objects to Google's wholesale scanning of millions of books for its Google Books search engine without always getting permission from copyright owners. A difference is that the ASMP focuses on photographic and visual arts work in the books.

"Google has been involved in a massive campaign of unauthorized scanning and public display and distribution of works. A lot of those works are photographs and illustrations and they're doing it without authorization of the copyright owners," said Victor S. Perlman, the ASMP's general counsel and managing director. "I call that infringement."

Unlike the Authors Guild and AAP lawsuits, this one has a broader scope beyond the Google Books project to scan millions of library books, and instead challenges what it considers other infringing Google activities and services, the ASMP said in a statement.

Asked for comment, Google said that Google Books operates within the law. "We are confident that Google Books is fully compliant with international copyright law," said Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker via e-mail. "Google Books is an historic effort to make all of the knowledge contained within the world's books searchable online. It exposes readers to information they might not otherwise see, and it provides authors and publishers with a new way to be found."

Joining the ASMP in the lawsuit are the Graphic Artists Guild, the Picture Archive Council of America, the North American Nature Photography Association, Professional Photographers of America, as well as several individual photographers and illustrators.

In its complaint, the ASMP charges Google with engaging in "the most widespread, well-publicized and uncompensated infringement of exclusive rights in images in the history of book and periodical publishing."

The ASMP considers members of the class photographers, illustrators, graphic designers and visual artists who own the copyright to at least one work contained in a book or periodical Google has scanned without permission.

The ASMP and other lead plaintiffs ask the court to slap Google with an injunction to force it to stop scanning and storing copyright works without permission, and ask that Google pay a minimum US$180,000 per infringed work.

In October 2008 Google, the Authors Guild and the AAP hammered out a controversial and complicated settlement proposal. Despite a revision, the measure has been roundly criticized by a variety of prominent individuals, companies and organizations, including the U.S. Department of Justice.

Judge Denny Chin from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York is currently evaluating the settlement proposal to decide whether to accept it. Critics say the proposal gives Google too much power over prices and over orphan works, which are copyright books whose authors or publishers cannot be found.

The ASMP, founded in 1944 and with more than 7,000 members, decided to file its own lawsuit because Judge Chin denied the group's objections and motions to intervene in the Authors Guild and AAP case, Perlman said.

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