ACLU, EFF And Others In Court Today To Challenge Google Book Search Settlement

February 18, 2010 11:14 am

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Groups And Prominent Authors Say Settlement Doesn’t Protect Free Speech Or User Privacy

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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Samuelson Law, Technology, and Public Policy Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law are in federal court today urging a judge to reject the proposed settlement in a lawsuit over Google Book Search because it does not include critical privacy protections for users of the online book materials. The groups filed an objection to the settlement in September 2009 on behalf of a coalition of more than two dozen authors and publishers, including ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero and best-selling novelists Michael Chabon and Jonathan Lethem.

“As digital book programs like Google Book Search advance, more and more people will turn to the Internet for their reading needs. Readers should be able to expect as much privacy when they’re reading a book on a Web site as they do in a library or bookstore,” said Aden Fine, staff attorney with the ACLU First Amendment Working Group. “People should feel that they are free to read on the Internet without being monitored by private companies or the government.”

The objection arose over the proposed settlement of a 2005 class action lawsuit, The Authors Guild, Inc., et al. v. Google Inc., currently pending approval in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The settlement would allow Google to scan and digitize millions of books and make them available to readers online, ending the legal challenges brought by the Authors’ Guild and others over the Google Book Search project. The coalition of authors and publishers who object to the settlement charge that it fails to include critical privacy and speech protections concerning the collection and potential disclosure of personally identifying information about Google Book Search users, and that this failure to protect privacy will chill their readership. They are urging Judge Denny Chin of the Southern District to reject the settlement.

Because the settlement does not contain any privacy protections for users, Google’s system will be able to monitor which books users search for, which pages of the books they read and how long they spend on each page. Google could then combine information about readers’ habits and interests with additional information it collects from other Google services, creating a massive “digital dossier” that would be highly tempting and possibly vulnerable to fishing expeditions by law enforcement or civil litigants.

“Advancements in technology should not come at the expense of Americans’ privacy,” said Fine. “The court should ensure that the same privacy and speech protections available to readers in libraries and bookstores are part of this settlement, to ensure that readers in the digital age continue to have the same rights they’ve always had.”

The objection filed in September includes a list of privacy protections that would improve the settlement, including requiring a court order or judge-approved warrant before disclosure of any information collected and limiting the amount of time that the information can be retained.

Attorneys who filed the objection are Fine of the ACLU, Cindy Cohn of EFF and Jennifer Lynch and Jason Schultz of the Samuelson Clinic.

The filing is available online at:

More information about the case is available at: and

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