A storm has erupted on the internet over Google's plans to create a virtual library available to all by digitising millions of books held in public libraries and universities across the world.

The Publishers Association yesterday refused to rule out taking legal action over Google's Print Project, saying that it was holding a “full and frank debate” with the company and other parties.

The action has come about because the Authors Guild, which represents over 8,000 authors in the US, has suggested that the search engine is breaking “massive copyright infringements” at the expense of the rights of individual writers.

The suit, filed in a district court in New York, demands damages and an injunction against further alleged infringements.

Five of the world's most famous libraries, including the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, have agreed to have books scanned by Google and posted online. However, after complaints from several groups about potential copyright infringement, Google has agreed to stop scanning copyright protected books until November.

"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.

"(Authors), not Google, have the exclusive rights to... authorize such reproduction, distribution and display of their works," the guild's complaint says.

Google intends to make full text searches of the books available to users for free, but won't share revenue earned by adverts displayed on those pages with the rights holders.

Sources in the industry believe the project could become very lucrative for the search engine company. Google would hope to earn cash via purchase links and contextual text advertisements on the pages.

Earlier this year Google called a halt in Europe after strong opposition from rights holders and the EU. Google said it would pause scanning books in the US for the time being until a compromise could be worked out.