U.S. writers are suing Google Inc. in a federal court, alleging that the Web search leader's bid to digitize the book collections of major libraries infringes individual author's copyrights.

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) -- U.S. writers are suing Google Inc. in a federal court, alleging that the Web search leader's bid to digitize the book collections of major libraries infringes individual author's copyrights.

The lawsuit, filed on Sept. 20 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against Google and its Google Print project, names as plaintiffs The Authors Guild and writers Herbert Mitgang, Betty Miles and Daniel Hoffman. It seeks class action status, asking for damages and an injunction to halt further infringements.

Hoffman was Poet Laureate of the United States in 1973-74. Mitgang is a historian, critic and former New York Times editorial writer. Miles is a children's book author.

This is the latest round in the battle between Google and book publishers that pit copyright holders' interests against the company's mission of "organizing the world's information and making it more universally accessible and useful."

Google Print has exploded into the top ranks of U.S. Internet sites, rising to the 30th most visited site for the week ending September 17 from 90th a week earlier, according to data from Internet traffic researcher Hitwise Inc. Global data was not immediately available.

A Google spokesman said the company regretted that The Authors Guild had chosen to sue rather than continue discussions.

"Google Print directly benefits authors and publishers by increasing awareness of and sales of the books in the program," Google said in a statement. "Only small portions of the books are shown unless the content owner gives permission to show more."

A year ago Google began working with five of the world's libraries -- at Harvard, Oxford, Stanford, the University of Michigan and the New York Public Library -- to make large parts of their book collections searchable on the Web.

The action by the 86-year-old Authors Guild is part of a push by the organization to roll back efforts by Web sites to make the contents of books freely available online.

In a related case, the group has been seeking for a decade to force online publishers from New York Times Co. to Amazon.com to pay royalties to writers whose stories appear in online databases without their consent.

In August Google said it planned to temporarily scale back plans to make the full text of copyrighted books available on its Internet site.

Google has said it will respect the wishes of copyright holders who contacted the company and asked for their books to be withheld from the project. Meanwhile, it said it was working with publishers and librarians to scan books in the public domain that are not covered by copyright.

Critics of the project said that Google's plan to allow copyright holders to opt out switched the burden of upholding copyright from infringers to copyright holders.

"This is a plain and brazen violation of copyright law," Nick Taylor, president of the 8,000-member New York-based Authors Guild, said in a statement Sept. 20.

"[Authors], not Google, have the exclusive rights to ... authorize such reproduction, distribution and display of their works," the complaint said.

The firm of Kohn Swift & Graf in Philadelphia represents the plaintiffs.