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Book Thrown at Google

Some writers sue over a big indexing project.

Updated from 3:40 p.m.



, whose corporate philosophy is to do no evil, is being accused by a society of authors and three individual authors of doing just that.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in New York, the writers accuse Google of "massive copyright infringement" for its plans to scan and copy books through its Google Library initiative, according to a statement posted on the Web site of the Authors Guild. Former

New York Times

editorial writer Herbert Mitgang, children's book author Betty Miles and poet and critic Daniel Hoffman are also parties to the suit.

"This is a plain and brazen violation of copyright law," said Authors Guild president Nick Taylor in a statement.

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Google plans to scan all or part of the collections of University of Michigan, Harvard University, Stanford University, the New York Public Library and Oxford University to make those texts searchable. Google's plan, called Google Print, also includes the posting of portions of books on the Web with the permission of the publishers in an effort to spur sales.

"We regret that this group chose to sue us over a program that will make millions of books more discoverable to the world," said Google's vice president for product management, Susan Wojcicki, in a statement posted on the company's internal blog. "What's more, many of Google Print's chief beneficiaries will be authors whose backlist, out of print and lightly marketed new titles will be suggested to countless readers who wouldn't have found them otherwise."

Google's plans to scan the library's collections are "problematic" because Google is doing it without the permission of either the publishers or the authors, said Paul Aiken, the Authors Guild executive director, in an interview.

"We're not against the basic notion of making books searchable and viewable on the Internet in some limited way," he said. "We are against doing it without a license."

But Google denies that it's violating copyright, saying that its book scanning is allowed under the legal doctrine called fair use. David Drummond, the company's general counsel, says fair use permits people to use copyright materials for purposes such as news reporting and research.

"The vast majority of the material that these libraries have is not digitized and not online," he said in interview.

But legal experts aren't so sure. "Fair use is a puzzle," said Jonathan Zittrain, a professor at Harvard Law School who teaches a course on cyber law. "There are some areas where I think it's clear. This isn't one of them."

The Association of American Publishers has questioned whether Google Print will properly compensate copyright holders. It has held talks with Google to voice its concerns. "We fully support the Authors Guild's motives and share the important concerns raised in the suit," said the organization, which represents most of the major U.S. publishers. "We hope that Google will resume the dialogue we began several months ago in an effort to seek an acceptable approach to the treatment of copyrighted works."

On Wednesday, Google rose $3.91 to $311.82.