Google Books

Judge Chin of the District Court of New York held today that the Google Books scanning project is ‘fair use’, granting Google’s motion for summary judgment. Google has scanned more than 20 million books and includes the results in its search engine. The Authors Guild and individual authors sued for copyright infringement and sought class action status. The Authors Guild has indicated it will appeal the decision.

In the decision (PDF), Judge Chin concluded (at page 26):

In my 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. It has become an invaluable research tool that permits students, teachers, librarians, and others to more efficiently identify and locate books. It has given scholars the ability, for the first time, to conduct full-text searches of tens of millions of books. It preserves books, in particular out-of-print and old books that have been forgotten in the bowels of libraries, and it gives them new life. It facilitates access to books for print-disabled and remote or underserved populations. It generates new audiences and creates new sources of income for authors and publishers. Indeed, all society benefits.

Google’s project involved scanning books from various libraries and then providing users the ability to search the books and receive snippets (see page 8 for details) of the books. Most of the books scanned were out-of-print. Google also provided the libraries with digital copies of the books scanned from their own collections.

Authors sought class action status and in a 2012 decision Judge Chin granted class certification but the decision was reversed by the appeal court which said issues of fair use had to be determined first. Also, in 2011, a proposed settlement was rejected by the Court as not being fair, adequate and reasonable. In today’s decision, Judge Chin held that Google’s activities were covered by fair use and granted summary judgment.

In today’s decision, Judge Chin considered the factors for fair use and found the project “highly transformative” (p19) and does not replace existing book sales but in fact would likely help the market for the original books (p25). Even though Google copies the full text of the books,”Significantly, Google limits the amount of text it displays in response to a search.” (p23)

According to reports, Authors Guild will be appealing the decision.

Some coverage of the decision: Arstechnica, Financial Post and IPKat.