Google's Book Project Harms Freelance Writers, Group Tells Supreme Court

Google's book search feature, which displays snippets of published works, has a "real-life impact" on writers' ability to earn a living, according to the American Society of Journalists and Authors.

That group argues in a new court papers that the snippet-view feature "produces market harm and actual damage."

The ASJA, which represents around 1,200 freelance writers, makes the argument in new court papers backing the Authors Guild in its long-running fight with Google over its book digitization project. The ASJA contends in a friend-of-the-court brief that some people are reading Google's snippets instead of purchasing books.

In its brief, the group points to the book "Osa and Martin: For the Love of Adventure," written by ASJA member Kelly Enright. She has told the organization that the book's entire first chapter is available for free via Google, and that high school students are drawing on that chapter to write school reports. "Instead of buying the book, they are referencing only the first chapter and focusing their projects on the the period covered by that chapter, resulting in a serious impact on her sales," the ASJA writes.



The ASJA also says that even if any one individual can only obtain a small portion of a book via Google snippets, a group of people can collaboratively obtain nearly the entire work.

"One ASJA author has learned that her textbook was being used for a class at a well-known university," the organization writes in its legal papers, filed Monday with the Supreme Court. "The students in the class banded together, purchased one copy of the book, and then each student in the group used terms in the purchased copy to search different terms on Google 'snippet view.' By doing this, they were able collectively to obtain nearly the entire book."

The dispute between the Authors Guild and Google dates to 2005, when the organization alleged that the search company infringed copyright by digitizing millions of library books in order to make their contents searchable. The Authors Guild said Google didn't have the right to copy books without the owners' permission.

A federal appellate court in New York recently ruled in Google's favor. That court said the company's book digitization project was "transformative," and therefore protected by fair use principles. "The purpose of Google’s copying of the original copyrighted books is to make available significant information about those books," that court said in its October 2015 decision.

Late last year, the Authors Guild asked the Supreme Court to hear the case. The Authors Guild says the ruling represents the type of policy decision that should be made by Congress. "Ultimately, this case is about whether classic infringing behavior -- copying for profit -- should be excused by courts based upon the perceived social benefit of ignoring creators’ exclusive rights," the Authors Guild says.

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