Google's hopes of creating the world's largest digital library remain uncertain after a New York district court declared it needed more time to rule on this controversial project. Announced in 2004, the $200 million project began by scanning and digitising the entire libraries of four major universities, including Harvard and Oxford, and the New York Public Library. In return for permission to digitise these works and make excerpts available through its search engine, the libraries were promised a digital copy of the books and journals. The case, which has implications not only for authors and publishers but also for anti-trust practices and copyright law, has been snagged in a legal quagmire since 2005. The Author's Guild and the Association of American Publishers filed a class action suit against Google Inc. for resorting to what they regarded as a massive copyright infringement for commercial use. Google claimed that use of snippets” and “excerpts” of copyrighted works were exempted under the principle of “fair use.”
The case assumed a wholly new dimension when authors, publishers, and libraries entered into an agreement with Google in 2008 to put in place a business model to compensate the former for use of copyrighted work through Google's digital platform. The agreement included out-of-print works and ‘orphan works' (where copyright is unknown) for free previews. A revised agreement was filed in court the following year after the U.S. Justice Department held that the original agreement could be in violation of anti-trust laws. It would benefit all if the final ruling strikes an equitable and fine balance — one that protects the rights of authors and publishers, that addresses concerns about Google acquiring a monopoly over a vast digital library, and that does not hinder a possible revolution in public access to knowledge. Under the terms of the revised settlement, millions of out-of-print works will become available to researchers and readers in a searchable online database. There can be little doubt that the Google's digital project will vastly improve public access to books. Some countries claim that the settlement violates the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. France is even preparing its own rival to Google Books. Given such developments, the view that too much is at stake to be decided by a settlement before a court has gained ground. What is really needed is a comprehensive legislative framework for book digitisation.