The Google Print Library Project faces objectors on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the US, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) has filed suit against Google over the search company's Google Print Library Project, the organisation announced Wednesday.

In Europe, groups representing authors are reacting with skepticism to Google's plan to digitise books, even as the company launched its Google Print Web sites in eight European countries this week.

UK not so OK on copyright concerns

They fear that Google is violating copyright laws by scanning their books without permission. “Most UK publishers have not done deals with Google," said Mark Le Fanu, general secretary of the Society of Authors, an organisation that supports writers by advising them on contracts and other matters. Google's program has not officially been launched yet in the UK, but some publishers have had the opportunity to sign up, according to Le Fanu.

Publishers here are approaching the program cautiously as they consider its copyright implications, he said. Le Fanu believes most non-academic publishers would be required to ask permission of each published author before offering the books to Google, in accordance with the contract between publisher and author.

US author fight-back

The new US suit is the second to be filed against Google by a US body representing writers and publishers.

"We didn't see another option," Pat Schroeder, AAP president, said in a phone interview Wednesday. "No one wants to sue a two-ton gorilla. I wish we didn't have to do it."

The suit was filed in the US District Court, Southern District of New York on behalf of five AAP members - The McGraw-Hill Companies, Pearson Education, Penguin Group (USA), Simon & Schuster and John Wiley & Sons. The suit seeks a declaration by the court that Google commits infringement when it scans entire books covered by copyright, and a court order to prevent the company from doing so without the permission of the copyright owner.

Google’s ultimatum too far

The Authors Guild and three individual writers filed a lawsuit against Google in September charging the company with copyright infringement.

Google announced in August that it would temporarily stop the scanning of in-copyright library books until November 1 to give publishers an opportunity to let the company know which of their books they did and didn't want scanned.

The company plans to restart the scanning of in-copyright books on November 1, according to Alexander Macgillivray, Google senior product and intellectual property counsel.

Google's aim for Print is to make searchable the full text of as many of the world's books as possible with the library portion of the project involving the scanning of books from five facilities - the University of Michigan, Harvard University, Stanford University, The New York Public Library and Oxford University. The arrangement with each library differs, with Michigan offering the entirety of its library, while both the New York Public Library and Oxford University are only making public domain library books available to Google for scanning, according to Macgillivray.

Online giant claims fair use rights

Google Print is creating a "searchable card catalogue of books" which falls within fair use under copyright law, Macgillivray said in a phone interview Wednesday. He drew the analogy between Google Print and writers who pen book reviews: both include quotations from books. "Book reviewers don't have to ask permission [from publishers]," he said, adding that the five publishers suing Google in the AAP lawsuit are trying to "bully Google into getting [their] permission anyway," which the company doesn't need to obtain under copyright law. "This shortsighted attempt to block Google Print works counter to the interests of not just the world's readers, but also the world's authors and publishers," he said.

Google began the project with its Google Print Publisher Program in October 2004 when the company went to each publisher and asked them which books they wanted digitised and which they didn't, subject to an agreement or licence. The controversy began with the launch in December 2004 of the Google Print Library Project when the company began scanning books from the libraries without seeking the copyright holders' permission.

While users will be able to view the full text of books in the public domain, Google has continually stated that users will only have access to a few sentences of copyright books.

Scanners and comtrol

Schroeder said that the AAP and Google had continued negotiations up until last week, but that the company wouldn't accept the organisation's proposal about using the ISBN (international standard book number) system as a way to identify copyright books and gain permission from publishers and authors to scan the works. Established in 1967, the ISBN system gives a unique ten-digit number to every book published to both identify it and link the work to its publisher.

"The proposal would've meant all books with ISBNs not being found through Google Print," Macgillivray said. He added that Google had been working to make it easier for publishers to submit lists of books they don't wish scanned under the Print program. "We've created a really straightforward mechanism," he said. "We continue to work with many publishers and have a lot of publishers involved in our Google Print Publisher Program."

The AAP had to resort to the lawsuit with the November 1 deadline looming for when Google plans to restart the scanning of library books, she added. "The game was over and there was nothing left," Schroeder said.

Google greets international grievance

Schroeder pointed to the solidarity not only among AAP's board, which voted in favour of taking legal action against Google, but also among the publishing community around the world. "The International Publishers Association and PEN have just passed a joint resolution against Google and will hold a press conference in Frankfurt tomorrow [Thursday at the Frankfurt Book Fair]," she said. "They're very displeased with what Google is doing."

The AAP met with Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his team on July 1, according to Schroeder. Since that time, the meetings between the organisation and the company have been with Jim Gerber, Google's content partnerships director.