Court Rules that Google Book Project is Fair Use

A US Federal Court judge has ruled that Google’s book scanning project constitutes “fair use” under copyright law.

In 2004, Google began digitally copying books from several major libraries — initially Harvard, the University of Michigan, the New York Public Library, Oxford, and Stanford.  More than 20 million books have been scanned so far.

According to Google,

The Library Project’s aim is simple: make it easier for people to find relevant books – specifically, books they wouldn’t find any other way such as those that are out of print – while carefully respecting authors’ and publishers’ copyrights. Our ultimate goal is to work with publishers and libraries to create a comprehensive, searchable, virtual card catalog of all books in all languages that helps users discover new books and publishers discover new readers.

However, despite its purported “respect” for copyright, Google did not seek the consent of the copyright owners before scanning their books.  The Author’s Guild (an advocacy group for writers, founded as the Authors League of America in 1912) and individual authors sued Google for copyright infringement.

Google claimed that its project would benefit authors by making it easier for readers to find and buy their books.

In response, Sally Morris, chief executive of the UK-based Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, said that that this was like saying “it’s OK to break into my house because you’re going to clean my kitchen.  Just because you do something that’s not harmful or (is) beneficial doesn’t make it legal.”

After an eight-year legal fight, Judge Denny Chin granted summary judgment to Google, writing:

In my view, Google Books provides significant public benefits.  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.

Judge Chin found that Google Books had become an essential research tool for librarians and researchers, especially in the humanities.

He agreed with Google that the project benefitted authors and publishers via the “About the Book” page with links to booksellers and libraries that carried the originals of the scanned books.  These links, he said, could “generate new audiences and create new sources of income.”

The Author’s Guild said that it would appeal the decision.

Stay up-to-date on the latest Intellectual Property Law news from Sheldon Mak & Anderson.

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