An association representing 125 university and other nonprofit publishers has written to Google Inc. seeking answers to concerns that the Google Print project for libraries violates their copyrights and undermines their financial ability to publish scholarly works.
In the letter, dated Friday and available here in PDF form, the Association of American University Presses warns that plans for Google Print "appear to involve systematic infringement of copyright on a massive scale," and outlines 16 questions about the search giants library digitization project.
Google in December had announced its ambition to scan millions of books from five major libraries and make the collections searchable from its Web index.
Part of the project will digitize works in the public domain. But the New York-based publishers association is taking issue with Googles plans to scan copyrighted books from libraries at Harvard University, Stanford University and the University of Michigan.
"Googles claim that it is fair use to make copies of every copyrighted work in even one major library, let alone three of them, is completely unprecedented in scale," wrote Peter Givler, the associations executive director. "It is tantamount to saying that Google can make copies of every copyrighted work ever published, period."
The dispute revolves around what constitutes fair use of the copyrighted books. The publishers contend that Google must seek their permission before making digital copies of the books and sharing those copies with the participating libraries.
In a statement issued this week, Google defended its library project and noted that for books still under copyright it will only display bibliographical information and an excerpt of a few sentences as part of search results.
"Google respects the rights of copyright holders, and Google Print incorporates several ways to view books to protect copyright," the statement said.
Google also said that it allows publishers to opt out of Google Print so that their copyrighted books are not displayed to users.
To the publishers association, though, Googles opt-out policy appears to be arbitrary, since Google had not complied with requests from at least two of its members to be excluded from Google Print, according to the letter. A Google spokesperson did not respond to specific questions about those cases.
Givler called Googles opt-out stance disingenuous and irrelevant since publishers are only given control after the copyright infringement has occurred.
The protest from university publishers is the latest salvo against Googles library project. In Europe, Google has faced a backlash over fears that the project favors a U.S-centric and Anglo-Saxon view of the world.
Already, six European leaders are working on a proposal for a European version of a digital library to counter Google.