ASMP Q&A: Google Class Action

  1. What action has been initiated by ASMP and others against Google?
    Joined by other organizations including Graphic Artists Guild, the Picture Archive Council of America, Professional Photographers of America, the North American Nature Photography Association, and several prominent individual plaintiffs, ASMP has filed a class action copyright infringement suit against Google, Inc. The suit has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by Mishcon de Reya New York LLP on behalf of the plaintiffs.
  2. What is the essence of the complaint?
    This copyright infringement action was taken to protect the interests of our members and members of our sister organizations who are owners of copyrights in visual works. Google has conducted massive and organized scanning and public display of images without regard to the contributions and rights to fair compensation of the artists who created them.
  3. Is it illegal if Google simply scans images without displaying them?
    Yes, copying images without authorization is illegal. Images are the exclusive property of the rights holder who must give permission for the reproduction of his or her work.
  4. Why have ASMP and the other plaintiffs chosen to take this step at this time?
    ASMP and the other trade associations representing thousands of members decided to file after their request to join the $125 million Authors Guild suit currently before the court was denied.
  5. Why was ASMP excluded from that suit?
    The Court felt that the Authors Guild suit was primarily about textual material and said that if we wanted to enforce our members’ rights, we should file our own class action, which is what we are doing.
  6. Does the ASMP class action address only the Google Library Project?
    No, we are addressing broader issues. The class action encompasses Google’s systematic and pervasive infringement of the rights of photographers, illustrators and other visual artists through all of its projects of copying and displaying visual materials without permission from the copyright owners.
  7. What does ASMP hope to accomplish through the current class action?
    This action was taken by ASMP in order to uphold the mission of our organization by representing the rights of this disenfranchised group of creative copyright owners. We hope to recover fair compensation for the rights which have been ignored and to explore alternatives for future business models through this process.
  8. The law firm is Mischon de Reya? How are they involved?
    After discussion with a number of law firms, we selected Mishcon de Reya New York LLP, which is the New York office of Mishcon de Reya LLP in London, an experienced and highly regarded firm. Mishcon was founded in 1937 and provides a wide range of legal capabilities. Earlier this year, the Firm opened the office in New York headed by former U.S. prosecutor James J. McGuire to focus on litigation, particularly including complex commercial litigation such as this copyright infringement class action.
  9. How much is the class action costing ASMP or its members?
    In the search for a law firm to represent ASMP in this action, several dozen leading firms were approached. While many firms were interested in taking the case, almost all of them would have required ASMP and the other plaintiffs to pay for the costs of the litigation. Unless the plaintiffs were willing to pay those costs, the firms were not interested. The costs in an action like this can rise to the millions of dollars, and for ASMP and the other plaintiffs, that would have made the case unaffordable. Fortunately, Julian Perlman, the son of ASMP General Counsel Victor Perlman, had recently moved from Proskauer Rose to Mishcon de Reya New York, and he was able to persuade the firm’s management of the importance of the case and to accept the representation without requiring ASMP or any of the plaintiffs to be responsible for any fees or costs. The bottom line is that, thanks to Julian Perlman, to James McGuire, the Founding Partner of Mishcon’s New York office, and the management of Mishcon, the plaintiffs are not paying the law firm or anyone else one penny to finance this litigation.
  10. What are the next steps in the legal process?
    Having filed the lawsuit, we have to wait and see Google’s response. That will dictate what follows, presumably additional court filings accompanied by the discovery process.
  11. Why are several individuals listed as plaintiffs in the suit — who are they?
    The individuals (Leif Skoogfors, Al Satterwhite, Morton Beebe and John Schmelzer) named in the suit serve as representatives for the “class,” the thousands of visual artists who are “similarly situated” and on behalf of whom the suit is filed. ASMP is appreciative of the dedication of these artists to stand up and be named as plaintiffs in the suit.
  12. What will this class action mean to ASMP members?
    Assuming that we are successful in this class action, there should ultimately be compensation to which members are entitled. It must be noted, however, that the Authors Guild suit has been in the legal process for five years with no final settlement, let alone payments, as of yet. As ASMP’s legal action progresses, members will continue to be kept informed and there will be a method for individuals to register their information.