Back in 2008, it looked like the Google Books legal saga might finally be over. After filing suit against Google for copyright infringement, a coalition represented by the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers had reached an agreement with the company, which would have given legal sanction to Google Books' scanning practices while compensating authors and publishers. Since a judge rejected the settlement earlier this year, however, there's been little movement in the case — until last week, when Google started trying get the plaintiffs kicked out altogether. The company is arguing that only individual copyright holders, not collective organizations like the Authors Guild and the American Society of Media Photographers, have legal standing to sue, and has filed a motion asking Judge Denny Chin to dismiss the associations from the suit.
If the motion is granted, individual authors, publishers, and photographers will continue the suits, but may find it more difficult to finance their legal battle. A successful motion could also weaken future attempts to turn the suits into class action ones by allowing Google to argue that the authors and photographers don't adequately represent a larger group. If, on the other hand, the motion fails, the suits will continue as planned, and hearings about class certification for both authors and photographers will probably start next year.
There are also larger implications for fair use at stake. If Google limits the suits to individuals, they're more likely to settle monetarily, leaving the major legal question of whether scanning books requires permission unanswered. On the other hand, if any group gains class action status, Google will face larger damages and a strong incentive to argue a fair use defense. For now, however, this move is a major step backwards for the relationship between parties.