The future of digital libraries seemed to ride on a single lawsuit last week, as the New York-based Authors Guild went to war against search king and Internet superpower Google.
Led by three Authors Guild members, the complaint seeks unspecified damages and a permanent injunction to shut down Google Print—a fledgling service that will scan digital copies of millions of books from five prestigious research collections, allowing Google users access to bite-sized pieces of this database through keyword searches.
"The authors are all tremendously supportive," said Paul Aiken, a spokesperson for the Authors Guild, a legal organization that defends over 8,000 members. "They told us, Its about time somebody did this."
Google responded with an unapologetic press release: "Just as Google helps you find sites you might not have found any other way by indexing the full text of web pages, Google Print, like an electronic card catalog, indexes book content to help users find, and perhaps buy, books."
The search king wasnt backing down.
Whats at stake? This legal battle has the potential to change the way in which consumers find and purchase copyrighted works.
The Authors Guild is crying copyright infringement. Google is responding with the fair use argument.
If Google wins, a wealth of information (albeit in truncated form) will be available to Internet users everywhere, and authors will have to consider this reality when they publish.
If Google loses, the very concept of digital books archives may take a hit.
Publish.com spoke with legal experts and publishing consultants to map out three possible future scenarios that could result from this crucial lawsuit.
What if Google beats the lawsuit?
If Google Print survives this lawsuit, anyone can browse books at the worlds most famous collections at home—a step those individual libraries cant make alone.
"Obviously, the library community has struggled for years to use these resources," said Fred von Lohmann, senior staff attorney at the legal watchdog organization, Electronic Frontier Foundation.
"It seems natural that libraries could take advantage of this technology. Hopefully with the Google case, some of the legal obstacles will be overcome."