Google Slammed by Photographers' Class Action

Last Updated Apr 7, 2010 6:41 PM EDT

Google (GOOG) has been wrestling with a class action suit over its Google Books server for months. Brought by publishers and one authors' group, it claimed that the search giant hadn't obtained permission to scan and display books that were still in copyright. A settlement has been in and out of the courts, with the latest version raising eyebrows at the Department of Justice. Now, as the judge considers the case, there's a new wrinkle. Photographers and graphics artists, who had sought representation in the suit and resulting negotiations, have filed their own class action suit, creating yet another hurdle for Google to clear.

The American Society of Media Photographers -- with the Graphic Artists Guild, Picture Archive Counsel of America, North American Nature Photography Association, and Professional Photographers of America -- filed a class-action copyright infringement suit today in New York. The complaint alleges that Google failed to obtain permission to scan and display books from people who owned rights to photographs and illustrations that appear in the titles. How surprising.

The artists and photographers had tried to add themselves to the existing class action , but the the court turned them down, the judge saying that it would derail the entire settlement. It still could, because the combination of graphic design and photography could affect a big portion of the books. In addition, the suit targets Google's Partners Program, which includes periodicals.

"Our position is that we simply want to be at the table to take part in the discussion of how these uses should be compensated," says ASMP executive director Eugene Mopsik. "We're not saying that we don't want our images used. We understand it's all new media and these are all new income streams. Great. We just want to take part of the discussion."

Both book and magazine publishers in the past often failed to obtain rights to reuse or sublicense photos and illustrations. Google has claimed that it has the right to scan and display books, but getting a U.S. court to rule in its favor is far from certain. That leaves Google with the need to either negotiate another settlement and gain permission, use the material anyway and risk the high potential penalties that a court could impose, or pull the visual material.

Film frame image:RGBStock.com user xymonau, site standard license.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.