Search engine firm Google has asked an appeal court to reject class-action status to a group of authors claiming its project to digitise a huge number of books breaches copyright rules in a massive $3 billion lawsuit.

The firm’s lawyers are in dispute with representatives of three writers – Jim Bouton, Betty Miles and Joseph Goulden – in a case involving its alleged violation of their copyright.

The two parties argued their case in front of a three-judge panel of the U.S Court of Appeals.

The dispute centres around what is fair use and at a potential cost of $750 a book, Google is eager to avoid being forced to hand out over $3bn in settlements should it fail in its appeal.

Speaking of the projects merits, one of the three judges hearing the Internet giants appeal even went as far as to say it could benefit a number of authors.

Circuit Judge Pierre Leval pointed out the project could help authors of more obscure works gain more of a readership.

He said: “A lot of authors would say, ‘Hey, that’s great for me.”

Similarly, Circuit Judge Barrington Parker said the project could have “enormous value for our culture”.

He added: “This is something that has never happened in the history of mankind.”

Google, which makes the vast bulk of its revenue through firms using it for search engine marketing involving things such as paid ads,  argues the project, which started in 2004 with an agreement by the firm to digitise a number of books for research libraries and has now seen more than 20 million books scanned as well as four million ‘snippets’ loaded online, should receive a ‘fair use’ exception from copyright laws:  Something the Plaintiffs dispute.

The Authors Guild, representing authors and writers, initially sued Google in 2005, claiming it was digitising books without first seeking permission from the copyright owners.

In a long running legal wrangle, Judge Denny Chin then rejected a negotiated settlement by the parties involved in 2011, before then granting class certification to any author in the US who had at least one book involved in the project last year.

However, Judge Pierre Leval has now suggested that it is the issue of fair use that maybe needs adjudicating first.

He said: “The big question is: Is Google going to succeed with its fair-use defense?

“The class-action question raises interesting and challenging points, but I wonder if you’re out of sequence.”

The case continues.

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About the author:

Martin Boonham is an online copywriter for ClickThrough Marketing, he has worked there since October 2012. He has a Masters in Print Journalism from Nottingham Trent University, where he also gained his NCTJ qualification at the same time; achieving qualifications in subbing, shorthand and media law.