Legal action on college book plan

Computer screen displaying Google eBooks Google has so far digitised around 15 million books

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Writers from Australia, Britain and Canada are suing five US universities for creating online libraries made up of millions of books scanned by Google.

They argue that the books were digitised without authorisation.

The lawsuit accuses the universities of "engaging in one of the largest copyright infringements in history".

The case could have implications for the long-running court battle between Google and publishers.

Abducted?

The lawsuit centres on the HathiTrust repository, set up by the University of Michigan to allow students and university staff members access to so-called orphan works.

Orphan works are defined as out-of-print books whose writers could not be located.

The other universities named in the lawsuit are the University of California, the University of Wisconsin and the universities of Indiana and Cornell.

Paul Courant, the dean of libraries at Michigan University, told the AP newswire he was surprised by the lawsuit.

"I'm confident that everything we're doing and everything we're contemplating doing is lawful use of these works," he said.

He said that Google had so far digitised about five million books from Michigan's library, with several million more to scan.

But authors are convinced that the project is a massive infringement of copyright.

"This group of American universities has no authority to decide whether, when or how authors forfeit their copyright protection. They aren't orphaned books, they're abducted books," Angelo Loukakis, executive director of the Australian Society of Authors told the AP news service.

His views were echoed by Daniele Simpson, the president of Canadian authors guild the Union Des Ecrivaines et des Ecrivains Quebecois.

"How are authors from Quebec, Italy or Japan to know that their works have been determined to be 'orphans' by a group in Ann Arbor, Michigan? If these colleges make up their own rules, then won't every college and university, in every country, want to do the same?" she asked.

Unfair advantage

Alongside the US Authors Guild and eight individual authors, the groups aim to prevent the first release of 27 works by French, Russian and American authors scheduled for October.

The authors said books from nearly every nation have been digitised, including thousands of works published in 2001 in China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Spain and the UK.

"This is an upsetting and outrageous attempt to dismiss authors' rights," said Mr Loukakis.

Mr Loukakis and Ms Simpson are among the authors involved in the lawsuit. Others include UK author Fay Weldon, poet Andre Roy and Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro.

The lawsuit comes ahead of the next hearing in the six-year battle between Google, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers.

Lawyers for authors and publishers are due to go back to court in 10 days time to see if a new deal can be done with the search giant.

A $125m (£79m) royalties settlement was rejected by Judge Denny Chin who argued that the deal would give Google an unfair advantage.

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