ASMP, Other Trade Groups Sue Google

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by David Walker

The American Society of Media Photographers and other trade groups representing visual artists have announced they are filing a class action lawsuit against Google to prevent the search engine company from copying, scanning or displaying copyrighted photos and other visuals in printed publications without permission.

For several years, Google has been working with various libraries to scan certain books and magazines, and make them accessible to the public for free.�

ASMP was joined by the Graphic Artists Guild, the North American Nature Photographers Association, the Picture Agency Council of America, and the Professional Photographers of America. Other plaintiffs include several individual photographers and illustrators. The group is filing suit today in US District Court in Manhattan.

"It's not that we are burying our heads in the sand and fighting what Google is doing, per se. We want our photographs to be used," says ASMP Executive Director Eugene Mopsik. "The issue is, we want to be fairly and reasonably compensated for those uses, and we want to be part of the discussions which establish the system or mechanism by which those payments or fees are established. We don't want those set by the publishers or Google."

The lawsuit is similar to a 2005 class action suit by the Author's Guild over the Google Library Project. That lawsuit was to prevent Google from scanning and displaying copyrighted books from various library collections without permission from authors. The two sides reached a $125 million settlement agreement last fall that is pending final approval of the judge. (The case was heard in the same federal court where the ASMP has filed its suit.)

ASMP and others filed a motion last year to join the Author's Guild lawsuit, but the judge in that case--Denny Chin--rejected their request. He told the visual artists that the Author's Guild lawsuit was primarily about text, not visual content.

"The judge rebuffed us, and said if we wanted standing, we had to file our own suit," Mopsik says.

According to ASMP, their lawsuit goes beyond the Author's Guild lawsuit by including not only the Google Library Project, but Google's partnerships with publishers to create database of magazines and other publications.

Mopsik says the only effective way for the trade groups to help establish a fair system is through a class action lawsuit. "We can't negotiate with Google directly. We don't have standing to do that because we don't own any photographs," Mopsik says of ASMP. The individual photographers and illustrators named as plaintiffs in the case do have standing because they own rights to their images. So ASMP is able to act on their behalf in the legal action.

The lawsuit may last for months, if not years, before it is resolved. Mopsik says that if there is any monetary settlement at the end, it will be "for past infringements" and disbursed accordingly to those whose works have already been copied without permission.

Meanwhile, there will be mechanisms for visual artists to join the class action, and opt into or opt out of "anything this lawsuit would entail," Mopsik says.

Related story: Photographers Denied Participation in Google Settlement



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