The Association of American Publishers (AAP) has filed a suit against Google over its Google Print Library Project, the organisation announced yesterday.

The project, which involves scanning library books without seeking copyright holders’ permission, has proved controversial with publishers. This is the second suit to be filed against Google by a US body representing writers and publishers.

“We didn’t see another option,” AAP president Pat Schroeder said in a phone interview yesterday. “No one wants to sue a two-ton gorilla. I wish we didn’t have to do it.”

The suit was filed in the US District Court, Southern District of New York on behalf of five AAP members: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Pearson Education, Penguin Group (USA), Simon & Schuster and John Wiley & Sons. The suit seeks a declaration by the court that Google commits infringement when it scans entire books covered by copyright and a court order to prevent the company from doing so without the permission of the copyright owner.

The Authors Guild and three individual writers filed a lawsuit against Google in September, charging the company with copyright infringement.

Google announced in August that it would temporarily stop the scanning of in-copyright library books until 1 November to give publishers an opportunity to let the company know which of their books they did or didn’t want scanned.

The company plans to restart the scanning of in-copyright books on 1 November, according to Alexander Macgillivray, Google’s senior product and intellectual property counsel.

Google’s aim is to make searchable the full text of as many of the world’s books as possible, with the library portion of the project involving the scanning of books from five facilities: the University of Michigan, Harvard University, Stanford University, The New York Public Library and Oxford University. The arrangement with each library differs, with Michigan offering the entirety of its library, while both the New York Public Library and Oxford University are only making public-domain library books available to Google for scanning, according to Macgillivray.

Google Print is creating a “searchable card catalogue of books” which falls within fair use under copyright law, Macgillivray said in a phone interview yesterday. He drew the analogy between Google Print and writers of book reviews: both include quotations from books. “Book reviewers don’t have to ask permission [from publishers],” he said, adding that the five publishers suing Google in the AAP lawsuit are trying “to bully Google into getting [their] permission anyway”, which the company doesn’t need to obtain under copyright law.

“This shortsighted attempt to block Google Print works counter to the interests of not just the world’s readers, but also the world’s authors and publishers,” he said.

Google began the project in October 2004 with its Google Print Publisher Program, when the company went to each publisher and asked them which books they wanted digitised and which they didn’t, subject to an agreement or licence. The controversy began with the launch in December 2004 of the Google Print Library Project, when the company began scanning books from libraries without seeking the copyright holders’ permission.

While users will be able to view the full text of books in the public domain, Google has continually stated that users will have access to only a few sentences of copyright books.

Schroeder said the AAP and Google had continued negotiations up until last week, but the company wouldn’t accept the organisation’s proposal about using the ISBN (international standard book number) system as a way to identify copyright books and gain permission from publishers and authors to scan the works. Established in 1967, the ISBN system gives a unique 10-digit number to every book published to both identify it and link the work to its publisher.

“The proposal would’ve meant all books with ISBNs not being found through Google Print,” Macgillivray said. He added that Google had been working to make it easier for publishers to submit lists of books they don’t wish scanned under the Print program. “We’ve created a really straightforward mechanism,” he said. “We continue to work with many publishers and have a lot of publishers involved in our Google Print Publisher Program.”

The AAP had to resort to the lawsuit with the 1 November deadline looming, she added. “The game was over and there was nothing left,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder pointed to the solidarity not only among AAP’s board, which voted in favour of taking legal action against Google, but also among the publishing community around the world. “The International Publishers Association and PEN have just passed a joint resolution against Google and will hold a press conference at the Frankfurt Book Fair,” she said. “They’re very displeased with what Google is doing.”

The AAP met with Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his team on 1 July, according to Schroeder. Since that time, the meetings between the organisation and the company have been with Jim Gerber, Google’s content partnerships director.