Page last updated at 12:35 GMT, Thursday, 18 February 2010

Q&A: Google Books in court

Gavel, Eyewire
The Judge's decision may not be handed down quickly

Search giant Google is in court in New York arguing about the merits of its plan to scan millions of books and create a digital library.

The court case could see the end of a two-year legal row over how the system should work. Many authors and publishers have voiced their opposition to Google's plan.

Why is Google in court?

It is in court to convince a judge that it should carry on with an ambitious plan to make digital copies of 10 million volumes by 2015 and create a vast library of electronic books.

The $200m (£128m) plan was first announced in late 2004 at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Since then, many libraries and publishers have joined the project and the number of works that could potentially be scanned has grown.

Once scanned, the books will be put online and be searchable. Readers will be able to get at entire copies of some books but most will just be summarised.

Why does it have to convince the judge?

Because lots of other organisations, 26 in total, have objected to Google's plans. While few decry the idea of a digital library for everyone, many worry about Google being in sole control of it.

The case will allow organisations and individuals who object to the settlement to air their opposition in front of a judge.

What will the case decide?

It will decide the fate of a settlement that Google worked out with the Authors Guild of America, the Association of American Publishers and five big publishing firms.

That settlement arose out of legal action taken by those organisations soon after Google Books was launched in which they alleged the search giant was guilty of "massive copyright infringement".

Their objection was that although Google was only planning to give short summaries of copyrighted books, it did not have the right to store complete copies of those books in electronic form.

The settlement involved Google paying $125m (£77m) to set up a Book Rights Registry through which publishers and authors could register their works and get compensation. This database will handle rights for more than 25 million works.

The US Department of Justice has also said it thinks the deal needs to be redrafted. In February 2010, the DoJ said the deal failed to address anti-trust and copyright concerns. It also had worries about authors having to opt out.

What happens in Europe?

The European Commission wants Google to take more notice of copyright outside the US. Many books out of copyright in the US are still subject to those laws in many European nations.

The Commission wants Google to negotiate separately with each publisher in Europe to ensure it does not violate local laws. Europe has its own digital library project called Europeana.

Does anyone else have problems with Google Books?

Lots of people do.

French publisher La Martiniere and Editions De Seuil sued Google France over copyright violations. The publishers won 300,000 euros (£260,000) in damages and told Google to pay 10,000 euros a day until the works were removed from the database. Google is to appeal against that ruling.

In December 2009, France stopped Google scanning books in the nation saying that the project broke copyright laws.

In the same month Chinese author Mian Mian sued Google for 61,000 yuan (£5714) for putting scanned copies of her works in the database. Google has now removed the book.

What happens if Google loses?

The hearing is not a trial so Google will not face being fined. The hearing is an attempt by both sides to avoid the expense and delay involved in a legal case. If the judge does not like what he hears from Google then the settlement will have to be renegotiated.

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