Google's protracted struggles with copyright holders continue, as the American Society of Media Photographers and other photographic artist groups and individuals banded together to file a class action copyright infringement suit against Google.
ASMP, the Graphic Artists Guild, the Picture Archive Council of America, the North American Nature Photography Association, the Professional Photographers of America and others allege that Google has scanned millions of books and other publications containing copyrighted images and displayed them to the public without the express permission of the visual creators.
The suit was filed April 7 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, which is where Google's Book Search settlement is being considered by Judge Denny Chin after gathering hundreds of filings, mostly from opponents.
That is no coincidence. ASMP and its fellow complainants said they decided to file the suit after Chin denied their request to join text authors for the Google Book Search deal.
In that settlement, Google agreed to pay $125 million to create a Digital Rights Registry to compensate book rights holders with fees Google gains from licensing their work online.
There has been months of back and forth on this since it was first proposed in October 2008, with several court trips to hear Google defend the deal and Amazon.com and others challenge it. Chin is mulling the current arrangement, which, though revised, also faces opposition from the Department of Justice.
Chin, who is expected to rule on Google Book Search in the coming months, is now overseeing the new suit.
ASMP said the new class action covers Google's "other systematic and pervasive infringements of the rights of photographers, illustrators and other visual artists."
ASMP General Counsel Victor Perlman said:
"We are seeking justice and fair compensation for visual artists whose work appears in the twelve million books and other publications Google has illegally scanned to date. In doing so, we are giving voice to thousands of disenfranchised creators of visual artworks whose rights we hope to enforce through this class action."
A Google spokesperson told me: "We are confident that Google Books is fully compliant with U.S. and international copyright law."
Since this is a separate class action, one might be tempted to conclude this won't have a bearing on the Google Book Search deal that is wending its way through the court system.
Unfortunately, many of the images are found in the very same books Google has scanned and is attempting to offer to users under the Google Book Search deal. So it seems logical to conclude Google's plan to license books now has another obstacle with which to contend, even if the suits are settled.
If Chin approves the Google Book Search deal, granting Google the right to license books with the rights holders' permission, wouldn't he also have to resolve the photographers' suit? He surely can't let Google proceed in protecting text rights holders without compensating photographers for their copyrighted work. That would be insanity.
I wrote last November that maybe Google should give up the Google Book Search plan. With this new lawsuit, I reaffirm my statement.
It's not worth it, Google. This seems like such a losing battle. It's clear the majority of concerns, from the government to industry rivals and authors and artists, just don't want you to scan the world's books online and license them to users.
At least, they want you to do it on their terms. If that's the case, forget it.