Google’s efforts to digitize books have hit legal roadblocks over the past few years.  Several French publishers brought copyright suits against Google, which had been digitizing and making publicly available portions of many copyrighted works apparently despite publishers’ requests not to do so.  In fact, Google was actually found guilty of copyright infringement in a French court.  Google was ordered to pay a fine and remove excerpts much like the ones at issue in later litigation.  The publishers essentially accused Google of letting people read their copyrighted works’ content without paying for it and therefore bringing in revenue from advertisements without paying to use the works.

Google finally settled litigation that had been going on for six years.  Plaintiff French author association agreed as part of the settlement to withdraw its lawsuit, which was the last one pending in France.  The deal reached will also allow the publishers to sell the digitized versions of the books that Google created, with Google receiving some of the profit.  According to the Wall Street Journal, Google also agreed to pay cash and “financially support the creation of a database of works for authors and rights owners, as well as a youth-reading program.”

While it is never great to get sued, this settlement is likely a serious relief for Google’s book digitization efforts, which have faced many legal problems.  In fact, a U.S. federal judge has just granted class action status to a lawsuit “that targets [Google's] efforts to scan books in universities and libraries.”  Google claims that scanning these full books is “fair use” and therefore not infringment.  A 2008 attempt to settle those claims failed, but Google representatives have indicated that the company would be open to entering a deal like the one reached in France to dispose of the U.S. case.  Will Google ever really catch up to other companies’ book digitizaion efforts, or are these legal hurdles enough to trip them up?  Does fair use doctrine really allow Google to scan entire books?

– Will Pickens

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