Stung by a publishing industry backlash, Google Inc. has halted its efforts to scan copyrighted books from some of the nation's largest university libraries so the material can be indexed in its leading Internet search engine.
The company announced the suspension, effective until November, in a notice posted on its Web site just before midnight Thursday by Adam Smith, the manager of its ambitious program to convert millions of books into a digital format.
"We think most publishers and authors will choose to participate in the publisher program in order (to) introduce their work to countless readers around the world," Smith wrote. "But we know that not everyone agrees, and we want to do our best to respect their views too."
Google wants publishers to notify the company which copyrighted books they don't want scanned, effectively requiring the industry to opt out of the program instead of opting in.
That approach rankled the Association of American Publishers.
"Google's announcement does nothing to relieve the publishing industry's concerns," Patricia Schroeder, the trade group's president, said in a statement Friday. "Google's procedure shifts the responsibility for preventing infringement to the copyright owner rather than the user, turning every principle of copyright law on its ear."
Google wants to scan copyright-protected books from three major libraries — Harvard, Michigan and Stanford.
The company also is scanning books stored at the New York Public Library and Oxford University, but those two libraries so far are providing Google only with "public domain" works —material no longer protected by copyrights.
Google hasn't disclosed how many books it has scanned since it first announced the program eight months ago. The company expects to be scanning books for at least five years — and probably much longer if it can persuade other libraries around the world to participate.
The project troubles publishers because they fear making digital versions of copyrighted books available on the Internet could open the door to unauthorized duplication and distribution, similar to the rampant online pirating that has decimated the sales in the music industry.
Publishers are also upset that Google might be able to generate more advertising revenue by offering an index of copyrighted books and so far hasn't offered to pay any royalties for its potential financial gains. Mountain View, Calif.-based Google ranks among the Internet's most profitable companies, having earned $712 million on revenue of $2.6 billion during the first half of this year.
Google executives have positioned the scanning project as a largely altruistic endeavor that will make it easier for people around the world to read the valuable — and often rare — material stockpiled in libraries. The company hasn't disclosed how much the project will cost, but it's expected to require a substantial investment.
The attacks on Google's handling of copyrighted material extend beyond books.
One of Google's most popular features — a section that compiles news stories posted on thousands of Web sites — also has triggered claims of copyright infringement. Agence France-Presse, a French news agency, is suing for damages of at least $17.5 million, alleging "Google News" is illegally capitalizing on its copyrighted material.