In a lawsuit with billions of dollars at stake, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan has allowed Google Inc. to fight the class status of thousands of authors who allege copyright infringement over its ambitious plan to create the world's largest digital book library.
In a brief order, the appeals court granted Google permission to challenge a May 31 decision by U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin that allowed the authors to sue as a group rather than individually.
Google already has scanned more than 20 million books, and the Authors Guild, a group representing authors, has said Google should pay $750 for each book copied.
Decertifying the class could make it harder for authors to win a large award.
Chin had said it would be unjust to force Authors Guild members to sue individually, likely resulting in disparate results and much higher legal costs, "given the sweeping and undiscriminating nature of Google's unauthorized copying."
But Google countered that many class members, perhaps a majority, benefited economically, and that case-by-case determinations were needed to show whether it was making "fair use" of their works.
Citing a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision favoring Wal-Mart Stores Inc. that made it harder to pursue class-action cases, Google said that even if "droves" of authors raised common issues, there was no "common answer" to address them.
In March 2011, Chin rejected a $125 million settlement of the case, saying it gave Google a "de facto monopoly" to copy books en masse without permission.
Among individual plaintiffs is former New York Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton, author of "Ball Four." Groups of photographers and artists are also suing Google over digitization of their works.