This week, Google dodged a multi-billion dollar bullet. After a nine-year legal battle, Google secured a victory against the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers. The author’s advocates filed a copyright infringement suit against Google in 2004 after it announced its “Google Books Library Project.” The project involved collaboration with the Library of Congress, American Library Association, the New York Library, and several other major libraries to digitize and upload their collections to Google Books, along with information about the books and short previews of the book’s contents.

Google Books Library Project works much like a library catalog. Along with author and publication information, it displays short previews of the text, user reviews, and links to libraries that have the title on the shelves (in WorldCat) and online booksellers that have it in stock. For books in the public domain, or where Google has obtained a full license, the Library Project includes the full text.

Google claimed its use of the copyright-protected books was fair use. In determining fair use, the courts look to four factors:

  • The nature of the work
  • The purpose and character of the use
  • The amount of the work used
  • The effect of the use on the marketability of the original work

Focusing on the amount and substantiality of the portion used, a federal judge granted Google’s motion for summary judgment, holding that Google’s use of the books is in fact fair use.

With the judicial stamp of approval, the Google Books Library Project may have made fair use a viable defense for the practice of partially digitizing copyright-protected works. But with the viability of the fair use argument hinging on the amount and substantiality used, Google and other digitizers were not given free reign to digitize entire copyright-protected works. Such a ruling would trample the rights of inventors and artists from every medium, leaving little incentive in place for the creation of artistic works — the very thing the founding fathers sought to address in the Copyright Clause.

–Erin Shackelford

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8 Responses to Google Books is Fair Use

  1. Heather Lane says:

    I’ve always found the digital revolution of books very interesting. It seems you can find larger passages if you have the time and energy to sit down and research it through the millions of purchasing pages.

    I’ve recently had similar, and interesting situation as I was trying to find Journal articles for Behavior Analysis. It seemed that every other site gave such a varying preview of the article, some even charging for the entire article, when it is rightfully free and available through the JABA website.

    I think this conversation could be a lot louder, since everyone relies on the digital world, yet still wants to value the rights of the authors.

  2. Christen says:

    I’m with Tony. This new model of a digitized library is great for accessibility just as long it remains protective of authors and copyright holders.

  3. Samantha says:

    This is a very interesting and well-written article! Glad to see that google books is considered fair use. They are very useful in conducting research!

  4. Tory Ondrla says:

    Access to information is so important but so are intellectual property rights. This changing landscape must be navigated carefully.

  5. Sonal says:

    I agree with Celena in that I’ve often purchased books from Amazon after looking inside the book. However, with Amazon, you usually only see the first few and last pages and you cannot search within the book like you can in Google. That type of glimpse inside the book is designed to entice you to buy the book. The Google system is designed more to aid you with research. I can often find the information that I need without purchasing the book. While the system promotes education and facilitates research, it does seem unfair to the authors even if their books are just being previewed in snippets. Perhaps there should be a payment system where an author receives some compensation every times its book is viewed. After all, Google is profiting from this system whether the book is bought or not…

  6. Annie Cella says:

    Very interesting article. Didn’t realize the implications of Google making life easier for some of us seeking a quick info fix!

  7. Oliver Shackelford says:

    Your article makes a complicated issue easy to understand. Great job.

  8. Celena Cater says:

    Doesn’t Amazon do a similar thing? I don’t think they have entire works digitized but you can read short previews of the content of many books. They probably have permission to do so though, in hopes that people will read the preview and then buy the book. I’ve done that many times.