An organization of more than 8,000 authors accused Google Inc. Tuesday of "massive copyright infringement," saying the powerful Internet search engine cannot put its books in the public domain for commercial use without permission.
"The authors' works are contained in certain public and university libraries and have not been licensed for commercial use," The Author's Guild Inc. said in the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
The lawsuit asked the court to block Google from copying the books so the authors would not suffer irreparable harm by being deprived of the right to control reproduction of their works. It sought class-action status on behalf of anyone or any entity with a copyright to a literary work at the University of Michigan library.
The Author's Guild, a New York-based non-profit organization, said its primary purpose as the nation's largest organization of book authors was to advocate for and support the copyright and contractural interests of published writers.
"By reproducing for itself a copy of those works that are not in the public domain, Google is engaging in massive copyright infringement. It has infringed, and continues to infringe, the electronic rights of the copyright holders of those works," it said.
The lawsuit said Google knew or should have known that copyright laws required it to obtain authorization from copyright owners of literary works to create and reproduce digital copies for its own commercial use.
"Despite this knowledge, Google has unlawfully reproduced the works and has announced plans to reproduce and display the works without the copyright holders' authorization," the lawsuit said.
Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., said in a statement that it respects copyright.
"We regret that this group has chosen litigation to try to stop a program that will make books and the information within them more discoverable to the world," the company said.
It said authors and publishers can exclude books from the program if they don't want their material included.
Google has said it offers protections to copyright holders by limiting users of books covered by copyrights to bibliographic information and a few sentences of text.
The company also has said it will direct readers who want more to booksellers and libraries.
"Google's massive earnings will not be severely damaged by its inability to create a new stream of advertising revenues and because other comprehensive electronic literary databases exist for public use," the lawsuit said.
Last December, Google announced its library initiative, saying it would be scanning and indexing material from the New York public library as well as libraries at four universities — Harvard, Stanford, Michigan and Oxford. The Michigan and Stanford libraries had agreed to submit all of their material to the Google scanners.