Commentary

Authors Guild Asks Judge To Reject Google's Fair-Use Claim For Books Project

It's been eight years since The Authors Guild sued Google for digitizing books and making them searchable. Since then, the ebook world has been revolutionized by devices like the Kindle and iPad. But one thing hasn't changed: The Authors Guild still doesn't think much of Google's project.

The authors' organization is now asking a judge to reject Google's argument that its books project is protected by fair-use principles. “Whatever mantra Google may chant about the public value of making all of the world’s works available to everyone, Google is heart and soul an enormous commercial enterprise, and its various uses of the copyrighted books in its Library Project are designed to gain a competitive advantage over other search engines and to generate even greater advertising revenues,” the Authors Guild argues in papers that were made public this week.

Google previously argued that its project -- which involves scanning millions of books that are available in libraries, and then displaying snippets of text in search results -- is protected by fair-use principles. The company said in papers filed last year that its project is a fair use “because it provides vast public benefits without any demonstrated harm."

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Google added that the initiative "gives people a new and more efficient way to find books relevant to their interests."

But the Authors Guild takes the position that Google trampled on the rights of authors and other copyright holders by digitizing books without first seeking their permission. “Until the Google Library Project came along, authors and other copyright owners primarily controlled the way that others could use their works. Rightsholders decided whether and when their works were duplicated, put into new formats or used to create derivative works,” the Authors Guild says in its papers.

While anything could still happen in court, Google seems to have the upper hand in this battle.

Earlier this summer, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a ruling that would have allowed the Authors Guild to proceed with a class-action against Google. The appellate judges directed U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin -- who is presiding over the trial -- to decide questions of fair use before issuing an opinion about whether the Authors Guild should have class-action status.

At the time, the appellate panel wrote that Google's fair use argument “may carry some force.”

Even more tellingly, one member of the appellate panel said at a hearing earlier this year that Google's project “has enormous value for our culture.”

If other judges share that opinion, The Authors Guild might not have much hope of winning this fight.

1 comment about "Authors Guild Asks Judge To Reject Google's Fair-Use Claim For Books Project".
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  1. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, August 30, 2013 at 4:47 a.m.

    Let's try again. Here's the real issue: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120330/12402418305/why-missing-20th-century-books-is-even-worse-than-it-seems.shtml. The great majority of books written after 1900 are unavailable to read, which I think we can all agree is bad for our culture, but it has the advantage for some of today's authors that they have less competition for readers from great writers of the past.

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