A group of academic publishers is challenging Google Inc's plan to scan millions of library books into its Internet search engine index, highlighting fears the ambitious project will violate copyrights and stifle future sales.
In a letter scheduled to be delivered to Google on Monday, the Association of American University Presses described the online search engine's library project as a troubling financial threat to its membership -- 125 nonprofit publishers of academic journals and scholarly books.
The plan "appears to involve systematic infringement of copyright on a massive scale," wrote Peter Givler, the executive director for the New York-based trade group.
The association asked Google to respond to a list of 16 questions seeking more information about how the company plans to protect copyrights.
Two unnamed publishers already asked Google to withhold its copyrighted material from the scanners, but the company hasn't complied with the requests, Givler wrote.
Google, based in Mountain View, California, said it offers protections to copyright holders. For example, the company said that for books still in copyright, users will only see bibliographic information and a few sentences of text.
"Although we believe there are many business advantages for publishers to participate in Google Print, they may opt out, and their books scanned in libraries will not be displayed to Google users," the company said in a statement issued late on Monday.
"We continue to maintain an active dialogue with all of our publishing partners participating in Google Print and we encourage any publishers to contact us directly with their questions and comments," the statement said.
The association of nonprofit publishers is upset because Google has indicated it will scan copyright-protected books from three university libraries -- Harvard, Michigan and Stanford.
Those three universities also operate publishing arms that are represented by the group complaining about Google's five-month-old "Libraries for Print" project.
That means the chances of the association suing Google are "extremely remote," Givler said in an interview on Monday.
"The more we talked about it with our lawyers, the more questions bubbled up," Givler said.
"And so far Google hasn't provided us with any good answers," he added.
Google also is scanning books stored in the New York Public Library and Oxford in England, but those two libraries so far are only providing Google with "public domain" works -- material no longer protected by copyrights.
US federal law considers the free distribution of some copyrighted material to be permissible "fair use."
The company has told the nonprofit publishers its library program meets this criteria.