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Copyright lawsuit challenges Google's vision of digital 'library'

Authors and publishers balk at the firm's ambitious plan to digitize world's information, saying it needs their permission.

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Book publisher Lisa Grant recently got an e-mail from Google Inc. - the $90 billion Internet search engine.

"Hello, Lisa, we understand that you have some concerns about your books being potentially included in the Library Project," it said, referring to Google's well-known bid to digitize the book collections of major libraries, including those at the University of Michigan, Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford. The idea: scan all or portions of those collections to make the texts searchable on the Internet for users around the world.

"As you already aware," said the notice, explaining a step-by-step procedure, "you can easily exclude books from the Google Library Project."

The interchange goes to the heart of a lawsuit filed in federal court in New York last week against Google and its Google Print Project. Brought by the 8,000- member Authors Guild, the suit seeks damages and an injunction to halt Google's project, claiming it violates copyright because authors have not first given permission to use their works.

Google, for its part, says the project benefits authors and publishers by raising awareness of their books - and including links to places to buy them. Users can see only small portions of copyrighted books - much like the distilled information about a book contained on a library file card, the company says. Such minimal use complies with so-called "fair use" laws, it says.

How such laws apply in the online realm is a topic courts are already weighing, as in recent cases regarding Napster, the Internet file-sharing system. It's at the root of this latest case, too, which may take years to resolve, possibly ending in the US Supreme Court, say legal scholars.

"We are talking a life span of years before we get an ultimate decision about this," says Larry Waks, an intellectual property attorney with Jackson Walker LLP in Austin, Texas.

Google has temporarily scaled back its project, ostensibly to give publishers like Ms. Grant time to decide whether to decline to let their copyrighted books be included in the project. But the company is moving ahead Nov. 1 no matter what, says spokesman Nathan Tyler.

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