In response to a lawsuit filed against Google by the Authors Guild, Inc. – a non-profit organization of 8,000 published authors – the University issued a statement yesterday affirming its support of Google and the company’s endeavor to digitize copyrighted works in the University library.

The University library, along with libraries at Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and the New York Public Library, have developed a partnership with Google to scan, digitize and create a searchable database of all works that are found in the respective libraries.

The Authors Guild lodged a complaint in the U.S. District Court in New York on Tuesday stating that “by reproducing for itself a copy of works that are not in the public domain, Google is engaging in massive copyright infringement.”

The database that Google would create under the agreement will allow users to search all library books for key words. The user would then be provided brief snippets of text where the search term appears and bibliographic information of the text. The database would also provide links for where the text could be bought or borrowed.

Defending the legality of Google’s actions, the University said it continued to be enthusiastic about the project.

“We are confident that this project complies with copyright law,” James Hilton, an associate provost and the University’s interim librarian, said in a written statement. “This project represents an enormous leap forward in the public’s ability to search and find knowledge,” he said.

Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, said the group is not opposed to making books searchable online in a controlled manner, but believes it should not be done without permission from the authors.

Google vice president Susan Wojcicki refuted the complaints by explaining how the project would be compliant with copyright laws. According to a statement that Wojcicki posted on the company’s website, the database would function in a way that would not allow users to see any full pages of text but just search key words that would lead them to the books they needed. She compared the database to an electronic card catalog that would index book content to help make searches easier for users.

Google’s website goes on to say that the company will respect those authors who do not want their works digitized and that all the books they have scanned thus far in their project are consistent with the fair use doctrine under U.S. copyright laws. The fair use doctrine is a set of limitations on copyrights that allow users to make copies without author permission if the information will be serving the public.

But according to Aiken and other authors, Google must get an author’s approval even before making the works available to the public. He said not gaining the consent of all authors before digitizing their works may create a precedent for other companies who wish to infringe upon an author’s copyright.

Stanford Law School Prof. Lawrence Lessig agreed with Google and its interpretation of copyright law.

“Technically, copyright law states that if you make of copy of a work, that you need to obtain permission from the author,” Lessig said. However, he said it is important to recognize what Google is attempting to accomplish by digitizing works and enhancing public access.

Lessig said the ultimate use of the database would not compete with commercial interests of the publishers and authors and therefore Google’s use of copyrighted works falls under the fair use doctrine.

An example, Lessig said, would be when parts of a book are copied for a book review, allowing for public critique of a work. Lessig said Google’s library project falls under the same realm because it provides information to the general public that would otherwise not be readily available.

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