Google sued by visual artists over book scanning

NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) - Google Inc was sued by photographers, illustrators and other visual artists who claim the Web search company is scanning and displaying their work online without paying them.

A camera used for Google street view is pictured at the CeBIT computer fair in Hanover, Germany March 2, 2010. REUTERS/Christian Charisius

Wednesday’s lawsuit was filed in Manhattan federal court by the American Society of Media Photographers and others who were not permitted to join a $125 million class-action settlement over digitized books, which is pending in the same court.

The new lawsuit also seeks class-action status on behalf of photographers and illustrators whose works are contained in books covered by the earlier settlement.

“Google is exploiting the plaintiffs’ copyrighted professional work without authorization or compensation,” said James McGuire, a partner at the law firm Mishcon de Reya New York LLP, in an interview. “We are seeking very substantial damages on behalf of tens of thousands of artists.”

In an email, Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker said: “We are confident that Google Books is fully compliant with international copyright law.”

U.S. District Judge Denny Chin is overseeing both lawsuits. He has not decided whether to approve the $125 million accord.

The latest complaint alleges Google violates copyright law by reproducing without permission “visual works” contained in books and periodicals.

It said this makes it harder for artists to license and sell works, resulting in lost profit and damage to reputations.

Citing Google, the plaintiffs said the Mountain View, California-based company has scanned more than 12 million books and could similarly scan another 174 million.

The complaint seeks to stop any infringement and seeks potential damages it said could reach tens of thousands of dollars per infringement.

Other plaintiffs in the case include the Graphic Arts Guild, the Picture Archive Council of America Inc, the North American Nature Photography Association, Professional Photographers of America, and several individuals.

The earlier settlement arose from a 2005 lawsuit by the Authors Guild and other publishers over the scanning of millions of books from libraries into digital form.

Under the proposed terms, Google would pay $125 million to create a book rights registry and would allow authors and publishers to register their own works, while having other ways to earn money from works posted online. Inc and Microsoft Corp are among the opponents of the settlement, while Sony Corp, which makes an electronic reader, favors it.

The U.S. Department of Justice said the settlement improved on a previous accord, but still appeared to run afoul of U.S. copyright and antitrust law.

The latest lawsuit is The American Society of Media Photographers Inc et al v. Google Inc, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 10-02977.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York and Georgina Prodhan in London; editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Andre Grenon