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Why are scribes crying just 'cos Google copied their books? asks judge

'A lot of authors would say: Hey, that's great for me!'

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A US Appeals Court has suggested that authors suing Google should be pleased that the advertising giant is scanning millions of books and putting them online for all.

A lawsuit to halt the tome digitising effort, brought by the Authors Guild and groups representing photographers and graphic artists, is up before the lofty court at the request of Google: the web goliath wants to reverse a lower district court's ruling that allowed the scribes to pursue a class-action case instead of filing individual suits.

Circuit Judge Pierre Leval said he thought the authors would be overjoyed to have their books digitised, particularly when the works were obscure and Google led readers to where to buy them, Reuters reported.

"A lot of authors would say, 'Hey, that's great for me'," he said.

Another judge, Barrington Parker, said the project was not just brilliant for authors but could have "enormous value" for culture.

"This is something that has never happened in the history of mankind," he said.

Google found itself at odds with writers after it signed deals with various research libraries to digitise copyrighted books, ostensibly to help people find material by making it all searchable. Since then, the Chocolate Factory has scanned at least 20 million books and uploaded portions of more than four million of them to the web.

The Mountain View giant argued that its book-scanning antics constitute "fair use" under copyright law because it's only serving up snippets of the works online. The plaintiffs disagree and want $750 for each book copied, which under the class-action lawsuit could add up to more than $3bn in damages.

Judge Level and the third beak in the appeals court Judge Jose Cabranes suggested that instead of ruling on whether the suit is a class-action one, it may be better to ask the district court to first figure out if Google's "fair use" defence holds any water.

But the adverting behemoth doesn't want the lower court to decide on the "fair use" defence just yet: it wants the appeals court to first rule that the writers and artists must launch their own separate lawsuits, pitting individuals against a multibillion-dollar corporation.

The judges have yet to rule on the case. ®

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