September 5th, 2014

Photographers Settle Copyright Suit Against Google. But On What Terms?

A copyright infringement lawsuit against Google that began with a bang in 2010 and plenty of bluster by trade groups about protecting the rights of their members has finally ended with a whimper.

The American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), Advertising Photographers of America (APA), Professional Photographers of America (PPA) and several other trade groups representing photographers and visual artists have announced a settlement of their class action lawsuit over the Google Books program on (mostly) undisclosed terms.

“The parties are pleased to have reached a settlement that benefits everyone and includes funding for the PLUS Coalition, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping rights holders and users communicate clearly and efficiently about rights in works. Further terms of the agreement are confidential,” NPPA announced today on its web site.

The lawsuit, almost identical to a separate lawsuit filed against Google by the Authors Guild, was a reaction to Google’s Books Search program. Under that program, Google has been working with several libraries to scan books and periodicals and make the content available through its search engine results. The plaintiffs sued in 2010 to stop Google from copying, scanning or displaying copyrighted photos and other visuals in printed publications without permission.

Under the terms of the settlement, NPPA says, Google admits no liability. And with no mention by plaintiffs about how a revenue stream from the Google Books program will be shared with visual artists going forward, it seems unlikely that today’s settlement included any concessions from Google to pay license fees for images scanned as part of its program.

Last November, a federal court dismissed the Authors Guild lawsuit on fair use grounds. That decision likely weakened the hand of ASMP and other photo industry plaintiffs in their claim against Google.

But ASMP and the other plaintiffs launched their lawsuit with high expectations.

ASMP said in 2010 that the goal of the suit was to make sure photographers are “fairly and reasonably compensated” when their works are distributed through Google search results.

When NPPA joined the lawsuit in 2013, NPPA’s then-president said in a prepared statement: “I feel it is the NPPA’s responsibility to protect that principle of ownership, and not allow companies like Google to infringe upon our rights uncontested.”

Advertising Photographers of America also joined the lawsuit in 2013. “Holding Google Books responsible for their flagrant copyright infringement is something APA has been working on and we’re pleased to continue this fight in conjunction with the other plaintiffs,” the APA president said at the time.

Meanwhile, the Authors Guild is in the process of appealing its copyright claim against Google to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York. NPPA said in its announcement today, “This settlement does not affect Google’s current litigation with the Authors Guild or otherwise address the underlying questions in that suit.”

Related:
Judge Dismisses Authors Guild’s Lawsuit Against Google
ASMP, Other Trade Groups Sue Google (for PDN subscribers)

November 14th, 2013

Judge Dismisses Authors Guild’s Copyright Lawsuit Against Google

A federal court judge has dismissed a long-standing lawsuit over the Google Books project, ruling that Google’s initiative to scan the contents of millions of books to make them searchable online falls within the bounds of fair use.

Bloomberg Businessweek has reported that Judge Denny Chin has dismissed a lawsuit filed eight years ago by the Authors Guild, which had claimed that Google was violating the copyrights of authors by scanning books without permission. A similar suit against Google, filed by photo trade groups, is still pending.

According to the Businessweek report, Judge Chin wrote in his ruling: “Google Books provides significant public benefits. It advances the progress of the arts and sciences, while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals, and without adversely impacting the rights of copyright holders.”

Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, told Businessweek: ““In our view, such mass digitization and exploitation far exceeds the bounds of the fair use defense.”

The decision doesn’t bode well for a nearly identical lawsuit filed against Google in 2010 by ASMP, the Graphic Artists Guild, the North American Nature Photographers Association, the Picture Agency Council of America, and the Professional Photographers of America. Those organizations want to prevent Google from scanning visual works in books without permission from copyright holders.

They filed suit against Google after Judge Chin refused to allow them to join the Authors Guild lawsuit.

Eugene Mopsik, executive director of ASMP, told PDN that he could not make specific comments about the ASMP claim against Google, which is still pending.

But he said of the dismissal of the Authors Guild lawsuit, “I think that it’s a terrible expansion of fair use [doctrine] to the detriment of individual rights holders.” He added, “I think it will further contribute to abuse of the fair use statute by other businesses. A lot of entities will look at this and say, ‘If Google is allowed to use [copyrighted] works this way, why can’t we?’”

Related:
ASMP, Other Trade Groups Sue Google (subscription required)
APA, NPPA Join copyright Suit Against Google
Judge Blocks Google’s Divide-And-Conquer Strategy in Big Copyright Cases

May 31st, 2012

Judge Allows ASMP and Authors Guild Suits Against Google to Proceed

A federal court judge has ruled that the Authors Guild and the American Society of Media Photographers have standing to sue Google on behalf of their members to try to stop the Google Books program. The trade associations have filed two separate lawsuits on the grounds that Google is copying millions of books without permission, in violation of copyright law.

The interim ruling in the case, issued today also cleared the way for Authors Guild members to press their case as a class action lawsuit, which Google had tried to prevent.

The ruling is a procedural decision, not a final ruling on the merits of the case. But it is important because it effectively blocks Google from using a divide-and-conquer strategy to defeat the claims of the plaintiffs.

The full story is now on PDNOnline.