On Oct. 16th, the Second United States Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled that Google’s Books scanning effort to create an online library does not violate copyright law and is protected by fair use. The decision, which rejects the latest challenge in Authors Guild v. Google, also held that Google’s provision of digital copies of the scanned books to participating libraries is non-infringing.

The lawsuit was originally filed only a year after the Google Books scanning project commenced in 2005 by the Author’s Guild and various independent authors alleging that displaying search results from scanned books is copyright infringement, even though Google shows only certain passages of the work, and that Google infringes on the publishers’ rights in revenue they could gain from a “licensed search” market.

However, the three panel appeals court unanimously disagreed with the Author’s Guild. Judge Pierre Leval, the author of the opinion, stated that “Google’s unauthorized digitizing of copyright-protected works, creation of a search functionality, and display of snippets from those works are non-infringing fair uses. The purpose of the copying is highly transformative, the public display of text is limited, and the revelations do not provide a significant market substitute for the protected aspects of the originals.” Additionally, “Google’s provision of digitized copies to the libraries that supplied the books, on the understanding that the libraries will use the copies in a manner consistent with the copyright law, also does not constitute infringement.” Even though Google profited from scanning the books, this does not justify denial of fair use under copyright law. The court found that Google’s actions did not expose the publishers to loss of revenue nor is there a right to a “licensed search” market.

This case is important to not only Google but other companies and institutions by giving them the ability to use copyrighted works to build new kinds of research tools. A spokesman for Google states that the decision underlines the usefulness of Google Books in giving users an “easy way to find books they want to read and buy, while at the same time benefiting copyright holders.” The Author’s Guild published a statement after the ruling stating their disappointment in the decision and their intention to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Jennifer Hunt


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