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Google, authors wrangle in court again over digital books

The authors are asking for $3 billion in damages related to Google's digital books project, while Google is asking for class action status to be revoked.

Jonathan Skillings/CNET
Google and the Authors Guild are wrangling in court again, with the latter asking for $3 billion in damages related to Google's digital books project.

Lawyers for the two companies on Wednesday presented their oral arguments in an appeal hearing related to class action status for the suit. A judge in the Second Circuit Court in New York last year had granted the Authors Guild the ability to sue Google as a group, but the search giant on Wednesday argued that such status shouldn't be granted.

The company in the past has cited a survey that showed more than half of the authors polled approved of Google scanning their books so the content could be searched online. A full 45 percent said they had already seen or expect to see higher demand for their books as a result of the scanning. And 19 percent said they've benefited financially from the scanning.

"The investment we have made in Google Books benefits readers and writers alike, helping unlock the great pool of knowledge contained in millions of books," a Google spokesperson said Wednesday.

We've contacted the Authors Guild and will update the report when we have more information.

There has been a lot of speculation over the years about the amount of damages Google could face. The Authors Guild has been looking for payment of $750 per "infringed book." Based on the $3 billion number cited Wednesday, that encompasses only about a fifth of the more than 20 million books Google has scanned.

Google and the Authors Guild have been battling about digitizing books for nearly a decade. The Authors Guild in 2005 filed suit and said that Google's book scanning constitutes copyright infringement. In 2008, the two sides reached an agreement whereby Google would have paid authors and publishers $125 million in return for scanning and selling their copyrighted works.

However, that settlement was thrown out in 2011 by New York federal district court Judge Denny Chin, who ruled that it would have given Google an unfair advantage over its competitors. In May of last year, Chin gave the Authors Guild the legal go-ahead to proceed with its class action suit. In August, however, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals found that Google could appeal Chin's ruling.

The oral arguments Wednesday are the next step in Google's appeal process. The main case over the book scanning has been on hold until the class action status is resolved.

(Via Bloomberg)

Updated at 9:50 a.m. PT with additional information.