Mass Book Scanning By Google Is Fair Use

Judge Denny Chin ruled today in favor Google in the book scanning case.  The ruling is consistent with the results in the Georgia State electronic reserve case and the HathiTrust case in particular.   Judge Chin assumed that the Authors Guild established a prima facie case of copyright infringement at this stage of the proceedings.  He examined each of the four factors for the defense of fair use and found:

  • Purpose and character of the use (factor one):  Google’s use is “highly” transformative in that the word index helps readers, scholars, researchers, and other to find books.  Moreover, the manipulation of electronic text can help researchers discover historical trends in how words are used.  Google’s for-profit status is of slight concern because of the important educational purpose served by Google Books.  Factor one favors Google.
  •  Nature of copyrighted work (factor two):  The majority of books scanned are non-fiction.  Though fiction deserves greater protection, all scanned books were published and available to the public.  In any event, both parties in the case agree that the second factor is not determinative.
  • Amount and substantiality of the portion used (factor three):  Google scans the entire book.  Courts have held, however, that copying the entire work can be fair use in some circumstances.  Judge Chin notes that the key to Google Books is its ability to offer full-text search.  Google tightly controls and limits the display as snippets in response to a search.  Factor three weighs slightly against a finding of fair use.
  • Effect of use upon potential market or value (factor four):  The Authors Guild argued that Google Books would act as a market replacement for books.  Alternatively, a searcher can use multiple word searches to construct a book out of snippets.  Google enhances the book market as each display links to sources where the book can be purchased.  As such, it provides a way for authors to get noticed.  As for the snippet to books argument, someone would have to have a copy of the book in order to construct a copy from the online display.  In any event, this would not be possible as Google has blacklisted some snippets as never displayable.    The fourth factor weighs strongly in favor of finding fair use.

If any of that wasn’t enough, Judge Chin had this to say:

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.

Take that, Authors Guild.  Speaking of whom, the Guild issued the usual “we’re going to appeal statement:”

Judge Denny Chin today ruled that Google’s mass book digitization project to be a fair use, granting the company summary judgment in the copyright infringement lawsuit brought by the Authors Guild in 2005.

“We disagree with and are disappointed by the court’s decision today,” Authors Guild executive director Paul Aiken said. “This case presents a fundamental challenge to copyright that merits review by a higher court. Google made unauthorized digital editions of nearly all of the world’s valuable copyright-protected literature and profits from displaying those works. In our view, such mass digitization and exploitation far exceeds the bounds of fair use defense.”

“We plan to appeal the decision.”

I’m sorry the Guild disagrees and is disappointed with the ruling.  I’m not.  The only question I have is why did it take this long to get to this point?  The opinion is here courtesy of Public Knowledge.

Mark

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