Google has prevailed in a nearly decade-long fight over the web giant’s efforts to scan some 20 million books.
Major publishers and book authors brought the lawsuit after Google announced in 2004 its “Google Print” and “Library Project,” which involved the digital uploading of the collections of works at the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress and various university libraries. The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers filed suit in a New York federal court alleging massive copyright theft.
On Thursday, U.S. Circuit Court Judge Denny Chin granted Google’s motion for summary judgment based on the company’s argument that its use of the copyrighted works was “fair use.”
In his ruling, the judge writes that “Google’s use of the copyrighted works is highly transformative. Google Books digitizes books and transforms expressive text into a comprehensive word index that helps readers, scholars, researchers and others find books. Google Books has become an important tool for libraries and librarians and cite-checkers as it helps to identify and find books.”
Judge Chin also examined the amount and substantiality of the portion used — one of the four factors in a “fair use” analysis — and notes, “Significantly, Google limits the amount of text it displays in response to a search.”
Rejecting the proposition that the scanning would be a “market replacement” for the books, Judge Chin goes on to say that “Google does not sell its scans, and the scans do not replace the books. While partner libraries have the ability to download a scan of a book from their collections, they owned the books already — they provided the original book to Google to scan. Nor is it likely that someone would take the time and energy to input countless searches to try and get enough snippets to comprise an entire book.”
The judge concludes his assessment by saying that in his 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.”
The development marks a much-desired win for Google, which potentially was facing billions of dollars in damages had the company lost. The ruling represents a defeat for authors, but the litigation did have the effect of convincing Google in the early days of the book-scanning project to limit the amount of material that was made available online.
The Authors Guild said that it intends to appeal. “We disagree with and are disappointed by the court’s decision today,” said executive director Paul Aiken in a statement. “Google made unauthorized digital editions of nearly all of the world’s valuable copyright-protected literature and profits from displaying those works. In our view, such mass digitization and exploitation far exceeds the bounds of the fair use defense.”