October 3, 2022

Academics Object to Class Certification in Google Books Case


University of California, Berkeley, law professor Pamela Samuelson, on behalf of more than 80 academics, sent a letter on Monday to Judge Denny Chin asserting that academic authors should not be included as part of a class authorization in the high profile Google Books case, due to fundamental disagreements between the interests of academics and other types of authors.

Samuelson has written and lectured often as a critic of the Google Books case, and of the proposed settlement which was rejected by Chin last year. In her latest letter, she writes that the Authors Guild and other plaintiffs—non-academic authors Betty Miles, Jim Bouton, and Joseph Goulden—“do not share academic values, goals or objectives. None of us would have initiated a lawsuit against Google for copyright infringement in the first place because it scanned our and other academic authors’ books for purposes of indexing their contents and serving up snippets in response to search queries.”

In their recent motion for class certification, the Authors Guild and other plaintiffs are looking to certify the authors of millions of different books as a single class for the purposes of the lawsuit. Google filed a brief [PDF] in opposition to the certification on February 8, pointing out that not all authors share the plaintiffs’ views: “Most authors affirmatively approve of the inclusion of their books in snippet view….Academic authors, in particular, say that they receive other benefits from Google Books, both individual and communal.”

To support the claim, the brief quotes a previous January 2010 letter [PDF] from Samuelson to Judge Chin, which she wrote on behalf of more than 60 academics. She wrote that “indexes and snippets advance scholarly research and improve access to knowledge, especially when, as with [Google Book Search], searches yield links to libraries from which the relevant books can be obtained.”

In Judge Chin’s rejection of a settlement in the Google Books case last March, he cited issues surrounding academic authors as one of several factors in his rejection. “Certain objectors, including…academic authors…object to the adequacy of representation, contending that their interests are at odds with the interests of the representative plaintiffs.”

He also quoted directly from the January 2010 letter he’d received from Samuelson, which, like the most recent letter, highlighted the differences between academics and other authors: “Academic authors, almost by definition, are committed to maximizing access to knowledge. The [Authors] Guild and the [Association of American Publishers], by contrast, are institutionally committed to maximizing profits.”

In her letter (posted on Scribd by the Internet Archive’s Peter Brantley with Samuelson’s permission, according to a post on the Read20-L mailing list), Samuelson highlights the essential gulf that exists between academics and other authors in regard to the case:

It bears mentioning that despite our having raised numerous objections and concerns about the proposed settlement in a very public way by putting them in the court record, none of us has been contacted by the proposed class representatives, the Authors Guild, or the lawyers who want to be designated as class counsel to ask for our opinion about what our interests are, whether to pursue this litigation, what relief to seek, on what terms to settle it, or anything else.

David Rapp About David Rapp

Associate editor David Rapp previously covered technology for Library Journal.