Group calls the search king's scanning and digitizing of library books "massive" copyright infringement.
As part of its Google Print Library Project, the company is working to scan all or parts of the book collections of the University of Michigan, Harvard University, Stanford University, the New York Public Library and Oxford University. It intends to make those texts searchable on Google and to sell advertisements on the Web pages.
"This is a plain and brazen violation of copyright law," Nick Taylor, president of the New York-based Authors Guild, said in a statement about the lawsuit, which is seeking class action status. "It's not up to Google or anyone other than the authors, the rightful owners of these copyrights, to decide whether and how their works will be copied."
In response, Google defended the program in a company blog posting.
"We regret that this group chose to sue us over a program that will make millions of books more discoverable to the world--especially since any copyright holder can exclude their books from the program," wrote Susan Wojcicki, vice president of product management. "Google respects copyright. The use we make of all the books we scan through the Library Project is fully consistent with both the fair use doctrine under U.S. copyright law and the principles underlying copyright law itself, which allow everything from parodies to excerpts in book reviews."
This Authors Guild lawsuit doesn't mark the first objection to the Google program. Other groups, including the Association of American University Presses, have also criticized it.
Last month, Google said it would temporarily halt its book scanning in the project in response to the criticisms. It said at the time that it also was making changes to its Google Print Publisher Program, in which books are scanned at the request of the publisher so people can view excerpts.
The individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which seeks damages and an injunction to stop the digitizing, are former New York Times editorial writer Herbert Mitgang, children's author Betty Miles and Daniel Hoffman, the 1973-1974 Poet Laureate of the United States.
The Authors Guild represents more than 8,000 authors and is the largest society of published writers in the United States.
Google did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the lawsuit. (Google representatives have instituted a policy of not talking with CNET News.com reporters until July 2006 in response to privacy issues raised by a previous story.)