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Second Circuit overturns class status of authors in Google digital books case

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] on Monday overturned [opinion, PDF] a lower court decision that had allowed authors challenging Google's digital books project to sue as a group [JURIST report]. Google has scanned more than 20 million books after partnering in 2004 with major libraries around the world, and millions were scanned without consent of the authors, leading the number of the infringed class to be in the thousands. Permitting a class action lawsuit would let the Authors Guild, an association of authors and one of the plaintiffs in the case against Google, to sue as a group rather than individually. The Second Circuit ruled that US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] prematurely certified the class without first deciding if the "fair use" [Cornell LII backgrounder] defense under US copyright law allowed Google to display snippets of books, which could render the question of whether plaintiffs may be certified as a class moot. The case was remanded back to Chin for consideration of the "fair use" issue.

In March 2011 Chin rejected an amended class action settlement agreement that was reached in 2008 between Google and the plaintiffs, who brought the copyright suit [JURIST reports] in 2005. The settlement agreement stated that Google would pay $125 million to the authors and publishers of copyrighted works in exchange for the permission to display up to 20 percent of the work online. The court reasoned that the settlement agreement would allow Google too much rights to exploit copyrighted works in the future. This ruling came a month after Chin delayed [JURIST report] it because he was not ready.

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