Appeals court halts proceedings in Google Books case

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit today granted a stay in the long-running copyright case between the Authors Guild and Google (s goog) over the search giant’s book scanning project.

In its order, the New York court agreed to stay proceedings in a lower court while it reviews Judge Denny Chin’s decision last May to certify the class action — a move that allowed authors and illustrators to go forward with claims that Google scanned their works without permission.

The proceedings began in 2005 when the Authors Guild filed a copyright suit over Google’s decision to scan the world’s books. The lawsuit was on hold for several years as the parties tried to get court approval for a settlement that would have created a market for the books. The settlement failed, however, and the Authors Guild resumed legal action last December. The Guild is seeking $750 per book, but only a relatively small number of authors would qualify.

Today’s decision means that the overall case will be on hold for several months. If the appeals court upholds the certification order, it will likely return the case to Judge Chin (who is now on the Second Circuit too) with detailed instructions about how to proceed.

The big issue in the case now is whether or not Google’s scanning constituted “fair use,” which is a defense against copyright infringement. Several scholarly and librarian groups have intervened in Google’s favor in the hopes that the massive digital collection can be used for research purposes.

Meanwhile, a parallel case is playing out between the Authors Guild and the Hathi Trust, a coalition of universities that has collected copies of Google’s book scans. If that case is resolved first, it is likely to determine the fate of the Google Books class action.

Here is a copy of today’s order:

CA2 Order Granting AG Stay