Google Wins Battle With Authors Guild Over Book-Scanning Project

stackofbooks Handing Google a victory in a long-running battle with the Authors Guild, a federal judge ruled that the search company's book scanning project is protected by fair use principles. The ruling, handed down on Thursday by U.S. Circuit Court Denny Chin, awarded Google summary judgment in the 8-year-old copyright infringement lawsuit.

“In my view, Google Books provides significant public benefits,” Chin wrote in a 30-page decision dismissing the Authors Guild's lawsuit. “It advances the progress of the arts and sciences, while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals.”

The case dates to 2005, when the Authors Guild sued Google for allegedly infringing copyright with its ambitious initiative to digitize library books and make snippets available to searchers. The Authors Guild said that Google didn't have the right to make copies of books that were under copyright without the owners' permission.

But Chin said in his ruling that Google's initiative is “transformative” -- which is one of the criteria courts use when evaluating fair use. “Google Books digitizes books and transforms expressive text into a comprehensive word index that helps readers, scholars, researchers, and others find books,” Chin wrote.

He added: “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 generates new audiences and creates new sources of income for authors and publishers. Indeed, all society benefits.”

The Authors Guild said in a statement that it disagrees with the ruling and plans to appeal. “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 the fair use defense,” Paul Aiken, Authors Guild executive director, said in a statement.

At one point in the lengthy litigation, Google and the Authors Guild agreed to settle the lawsuit, but Chin scuttled the proposed deal due to antitrust concerns. That agreement would have allowed Google to create a new book registry and sell digital downloads at prices it set with the registry. That settlement also would have immunized Google -- but no other companies -- from copyright infringement liability for digitizing orphan works, or books under copyright whose owners can't be found.

Critics, including consumer advocacy organizations and Google's rivals, argued that this provision would have granted Google a monopoly in orphan works. But Chin's ruling could bode well for other companies that want to digitize orphan works -- as well as other books.

University of Maryland law professor James Grimmelmann, who has closely followed the litigation, says many groups have reason to cheer Google's victory. “Today's holding is good news for other book-scanners, for libraries, and for researchers looking for new ways to glean insights from huge datasets that happen to contain copyrighted works,” he says in an email to Online Media Daily.
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