Google's book scanning is 'fair use,' judge rules

Google's book scanning is 'fair use,' judge rules

Summary: In a landmark copyright case, a judge has ruled Google's massive book scanning project for its search engine fair use.

TOPICS: Google

Google has won a landmark court case in the U.S., after a judge ruled that the company's massive book-scanning project -- which allows users of its search engine to find snippets of copyrighted work without author permission -- is legal under fair use terms.

On Thursday, the eight-year long lawsuit came to an abrupt end, as New York federal court judge Denny Chin ruled (.pdf) that book scanning practices conducted by the tech giant as part of its plans to scan and index every text on the globe -- under the term "Google Books" -- is legal.


Under "fair use" copyright legislation, extracts of copyrighted works -- such as books or songs -- can be used as long as the snipped is not directly used for commercial purposes, the work is available to the public, only a portion is in use rather than a whole work, and "fair use" does not impact badly on the commercial value of an item.

According to the Financial Times, over 20 million books have been scanned and indexed as part of the project, launched by co-founder Larry Page in 2004.

Four years after its launch, the U.S. Authors Guild launched a lawsuit against the firm, which resulted in a $125 million settlement agreement to resolve a number of complaints by both authors and publishers. Such a settlement was believed to ignore the rights of those in the book industry outside of the United States, however, and so the judge later quashed the deal completely.

Critics argue that Google profits from scanning and releasing copyright material as consumers use the company's search engine to research titles, which displays advertisements. Complainants argued that the general public was less likely to make a purchase if they could extract part of a text for free online, whereas Google retorted that it would be highly unlikely -- and extremely time consuming -- for a user to be able to compile enough extracts of a book from the web to make a full purchase pointless.

In addition, as noted by the judge, Google takes steps to stop users from seeing all snippets of a copyrighted work, and according to Chin, being able to view extracts of a book in today's world was likely to increase book sales -- rather than lower them. Within his ruling, Chin said:

"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 generates new audiences and creates new sources of income for authors and publishers. Indeed, all society benefits."

Google welcomed the judge's ruling. However, executive director of the U.S. Authors Guild Paul Aiken said a statement:

"We disagree with and are disappointed by the court’s decision today. 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.”

The U.S. Author's Guild plans to appeal the decision. 

Topic: Google

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  • Finally.

    About time a judge got some sense.
    • Finally.

      About time a judge got some kickbacks.

      There, I fixed it for you.
      NoMore MicrosoftEver
      • If you're going to publicly accuse someone of a crime... evidence.
        John L. Ries
        • Why should he?

          Nobody else does when they accuse MS or Apple of "paying off judges"
          • Actually, I've posted such statements...

            ...even when the beneficiary was MS (and we all know what a fan of MS I'm not). It's really easy to casually accuse judges and other officials of taking bribes just because they make decisions with which one disagrees, but unless one can substantiate it, it's slander (whether the law says it is, or not).

            Thus the general principle remains: don't accuse people of wrongdoing unless there are better reasons for believing it than that they did something you don't like.
            John L. Ries
  • Now the one million question

    How is it possible that a public Library scanning books is illegal, yet Google doing the very same thing is legal?

    A lot of hands got greased, it seems.
    • There is a difference.

      The wholesale copies are not legal.

      google doesn't make wholesale copies available, only excerpts.

      And anyone can do that. That is how you create references for quoted strings--- you have to have the quote to start with.
      • Nope

        Google does make an wholesale copy of the book. All they claim is they have made it inconvenient for the user to download it at once, but one can assemble the book page by page.
        I know this for sure, as I have experimented with it. Assembled few books, page by page.

        If I was so inclined, I could automate the process and have the whole scanned books downloaded from Google.
        There is even a business in this -- a service that will provide you with any scanned book for a fee. For example by using the millions of infected Windows PCs that are part of botnets: business for everyone, for the botnet owners, for those who provide the books download service and.. of course for Google.
        • @danbi, you are right

          I too did the experiment with a partial book, even though it is PITA, it is possible, and thus Google is scanning the entire book only, even though fanboys like @jessepollard know this, they don't accept this fact.

          I too smell some dirty money laundered between hands in this case.
          Ram U
      • Nice work around

        "can be used as long as the snipped is not directly used for commercial purposes"

        So Google makes no money from ads for this? I see, since they don't charge to view the snipets, its's fine as they'll make it up in selling ad space on the page.
    • Depends

      If it is done within compliance of the law there's nothing illegal about it... You just cannot put too much of the book together in the same search results.
  • All of this from...

    a company that says 'Do no evil'.

    Google belives it can do what it wants because it has the moeny to do it.

    Google you are evil.
  • all books should be free for the people

    the publishers should start being greedy and release all books for free.
    This will increase revenues just as FOSS did for companies embracing it.
    LlNUX Geek
    • they should start being greedy and release all books for free

      how is it being greedy if you give the book away for free?
      NoMore MicrosoftEver
    • load of rubbish

      There are very few open source companies making money.

      Next you you will be telling McDonald's it has to give it's food away for free.

      If companies cannot not make money they provide jobs it's simple maths.
  • This one's not over

    Both sides have enough money to appeal this all the way to the Supreme Court, which is probably what's going to happen.
    John L. Ries
    • But Google has more money and connections to the top of the country.

      Ram U
      • That doesn't win court cases

        Even if, as is sometimes alleged by anti-Googlers, Google's top execs have major influence with the Obama Administration, it's not going to be helpful in convincing five of nine Supreme Court justices (most of whom were appointed by Republican presidents and all of whom serve life terms) that their book scanning/indexing activities are fair use.
        John L. Ries
        • And...

          ...I would make the audacious claim that the intellectual property lobby has even more political influence than Google (witness its ability to influence international agreements negotiated behind closed doors).
          John L. Ries
      • Interestingly enough...

        I copy the following from InformationWeek's report on this decision:

        "The case wasn't going well for Google. The company tried to settle the claims in 2008 and then again in 2010, at which point the U.S. Department of Justice filed an objection in the case brought by The Authors Guild, saying the terms didn't adequately address the antitrust and copyright issues raised in the litigation. "


        In 2010, Barack Obama was President and Eric Holder was U.S. Attorney General.
        John L. Ries