Google’s fair use victory

November 15, 2013 by

The long copyright fight between Google and the Authors Guild is over (for the time being). Google’s massive book scanning project (Google Books) that makes complete copies of books without an author’s permission is justified under the doctrine of fair use under U.S. copyright law.

Google has scanned more than twenty million books from libraries and made them available on the Internet. It scanned all sorts of books, including novels, biographies, children’s books, reference works, textbooks, instruction manuals, treatises, dictionaries, cookbooks, poetry books, and memoirs.

Google delivered digital copies to participating libraries, created an electronic database of books, and made text available for online searching through the use of ‘snippets’. Many of the books scanned by Google were still copyright protected and Google did not obtain permission from the copyright holders to use the books.

In 2005 the Authors Guild and others commenced proceedings against Google for copyright infringement. The litigation was long and expensive.

In this round, Google successfully raised the fair use defense against the claim of copyright infringement. The fair use doctrine permits the fair use of copyrighted works to fulfill copyright’s very purpose, ‘to promote the progress of science and useful arts.’ The application of the fair use doctrine is very much fact and context driven.

Judge Denny Chin described Google’s scanning and indexing of books as ‘highly transformative’ as it has become an important tool for libraries and librarians and cite-checkers as it helps to identify and find books.

Google Books provides ‘significant public benefits’ as it is an ‘essential research tool’. ‘It advances the progress of the arts and sciences, while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals, and without adversely impacting the rights of copyright holders. It has become an invaluable research tool that permits students, teachers, librarians, and others to more efficiently identify and locate books. It has given scholars the ability, for the first time, to conduct full-text searches of tens of millions of books. It preserves books, in particular out-of-print and old books that have been forgotten in the bowels of libraries, and it gives them new life. It facilitates access to books for print-disabled and remote or underserved populations. It generates new audiences and creates new sources of income for authors and publishers and providing benefits to society by making books more available. Indeed all society benefits’.

The ruling is a big win for Google as it helps to maintain its market leadership in the search engine business. However, the Authors Guild has indicated that it will appeal the decision.


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