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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.
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