Google yesterday filed a motion to dismiss the Authors Guild as a plaintiff in the long-running Google Books lawsuit, arguing that the organization lacks “associational standing” to sue on behalf of individual copyright holders.
Under U.S. law, only the owner of a copyright has standing to sue for copyright infringement. Associations, such as the Authors Guild, may sue in certain cases if their members would also have standing to sue—a concept called “associational standing.”
In yesterday’s filing [PDF], Google argues that associational standing does not apply in this case, because the individual members whose copyrights were allegedly infringed would each have to back up their claims:
[A]ssociational standing requires that “neither the claim asserted nor the relief requested requires the participation of individual members in the lawsuit.”…Individual copyright owners’ participation is necessary to establish a claim for copyright infringement. Because the claims asserted and the relief requested thus require the participation of individual members in the lawsuit, the associations lack standing to assert copyright claims on behalf of their members.
New York Law School professor James Grimmelmann, in a post last night on his Laboratorium blog, wrote that Google’s argument firmly puts the ball in the Authors Guild’s court:
When it comes to ownership, [the] Google brief effectively asserts that the e-rights situation for books is a tarpit in a bog under a swamp shrouded in fog. You want to sue us as an association, it asks? Fine. Just sort out who owns e-rights throughout the publishing industry first. Get back to us when you’re done.
AIME v. UCLA cited
Google cites the recent AIME et al. v. Regents of UCLA et al. video streaming case as “directly on point” in making its argument. That case was dismissed on October 3 in part due to questions of associational standing.
In AIME v. UCLA, the judge ruled that AIME (the Association for Information Media and Equipment) did not have standing because it did not own the copyrights at issue. “In order to establish a claim for copyright infringement, individual copyrights owners’ participation is necessary,” the judge wrote in his ruling [PDF]. AIME filed a second amended complaint on October 24, and the parties have since filed various other motions.
In its filing, Google also seeks to dismiss the plaintiffs of a separate copyright case, The American Society of Media Photographers, et al. v. Google, on similar grounds. Both plaintiffs’ responses to the filing are due by January 23, 2012.