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Bestselling Authors and Rights Organizations Support Authors Guild in Asking Supreme Court to Review Authors Guild v. Google Ruling

WASHINGTON, DC, February 2, 2016 Yesterday, bestselling authors, book publishers, rights organizations, and copyright experts from around the world filed briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the Authors Guild’s petition asking the Court to hear its case that Google must be held accountable for digitally copying millions of copyrighted books without permission or payment.

Authors and dramatists adding their names to a friend-of-the-Court brief filed in Washington, DC include Stephen Sondheim, Margaret Atwood, Tony Kushner, J.M. Coetzee, Malcolm Gladwell, Douglas Wright, Michael Frayn, Marsha Norman, and Yann Martel. Major publishers Elsevier and Hachette were among those filing a separate brief, while other briefs came from the Copyright Alliance and the Copyright Clearance Center, among others. All were filed by a February 1 deadline dictated by the Court.

“The court of appeals subordinated the very right that lies at the heart of copyright—the right to reproduce,” said the publishers’ brief.

It has been one month since the Guild, the nation’s largest and oldest society of professional writers, filed a petition asking the Court to review a Second Circuit court ruling in its decade-old copyright infringement case against Google. The tech giant copied 20 million books from libraries and other institutions in exchange for offering them a digital copy in return—but without seeking permission from authors. At least four million of those books were protected by copyright.

The briefs submitted yesterday cite a broad range of facts, case law and precedent to support their positions. The brief of the Copyright Clearance Center and others, for one, related that Google (now the world’s biggest company in terms of value) played fast-and-loose while its competitors stuck to the rulebook: “until it abandoned the effort in May 2008, Microsoft […] was pursuing a book digitization project similar to Google Books but for the fact that Microsoft did not scan or display copyrighted books without permission of the copyright owner.”

The brief submitted by a group of international authors’ and publishers’ organizations directly questioned the lower-court ruling at the heart of the Guild’s petition to the Supreme Court, stating that it “made no effort to engage in any ‘case-by-case’ analysis of the vast spectrum of books that Google copied cover-to-cover, nor even to categorize the different types of works involved, in order to assess the differential impact of the copying on different categories of authors and publishers.”

“We are pleased to see so many esteemed authors, publishing groups, and copyright experts supporting us,” said Mary Rasenberger, Executive Director of the Authors Guild in New York. “Their level of support proves that this matter is critical to the future of fair use under copyright law—if not the future of publishing and authorship itself.”

The brief filed by publishers poses a question fundamental to the Guild’s petition before the Court: “If Google can copy every book in our great libraries, so may others, eliminating the ‘exclusive right’ at the heart of the incentives to create afforded by the Framers and Congress.” The Guild has consistently argued that the Second Circuit decision favouring Google’s book scanning project effectively rewrote copyright law.

Joining the Copyright Clearance Center in its brief are the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations, based in Brussels, and Marybeth Peters. As U.S. Register of Copyright from 1994 through 2010, Peters helped shape copyright law—and in the process educated courts, the Congress, and the American public on its role. The copyright group’s brief contends that “Google built its database by systematically copying millions of copyrighted books in their entirety.”

The Supreme Court is expected to decide this spring if it will hear the case.