SAN FRANCISCO - 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, Calif., did not immediately return phone and e-mail messages left Monday.
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 represented by the group complaining about Google's 5-month-old "Libraries for Print" project. That means the chances of the association suing Google are "extremely remote," Givler said in an interview 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."
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.
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.
Copyright concerns aren't the only issue casting a cloud over Google's library-scanning project. The project also has drawn criticism in Europe for placing too much emphasis on material from the United States.
One of Google's most popular features - a section that compiles news stories posted on thousands of Web sites - already has triggered claims of copyright infringement. Agence France-Presse, a French news agency, is suing for damages of at least $17.5 million, alleging "Google News" is illegally capitalizing on its copyrighted material.