Google's Digital Library Plan Hits Another Snag

Since its founding more than a decade ago, Google has been trying to scan all the world's books to make them searchable online. But the effort has been stalled because of opposition from the Authors Guild. On Monday, a judge put the case on hold while Google appeals whether authors should receive class status.

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Google's plan to create the world's largest digital library ran into legal problems when groups of authors sued, to defend the rights to their work. If that sounds like an old news story, that's because it is. The lawsuit, now in its 11th year, has run into yet another legal delay. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The Authors Guild initiated the lawsuit against Google in 2005.] NPR's Laura Sydell reports.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: When Google set out to scan the world's books, it was ostensibly for high-minded reasons. In an interview a few years ago, co-founder Sergey Brin told me it was part of Google's grand mission to make all the world's information searchable. He didn't want to wait because books can be lost at any moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

SERGEY BRIN: And there are floods, and there are fires. And of course, you know, the most famous example of all - the library at Alexandria.

SYDELL: Which burnt to the ground, in ancient times. Hopefully, this lawsuit will be resolved before the Internet is ancient. Since 2004, Google has been fighting with the Authors Guild. The Guild claims the company can't scan books without getting permission from the author. Yesterday, a judge put the case on hold while Google appeals the right of the Authors Guild to bring a class action.

U.C. Berkeley law professor Pam Samuelson says Google is confident enough to keep scanning.

PAM SAMUELSON: But the sense that I have, from talking to people, is that maybe they have slowed down a little bit.

SYDELL: But that may also be because Google has reportedly already scanned some 20 million books, now safe from fires - even if the public can't access them.

Laura Sydell, NPR News.

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Correction Sept. 18, 2012

The audio introduction to this story mistakenly states the date that litigation was initiated against Google. The Authors Guild brought the lawsuit in 2005.

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