Court Rules that Google's Book-Scanning Project Is Fair Use

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Years after a group of authors and publishers sued Google over its massive initiative to make digital copies of library books, the company won a dismissal of the suit. The opinion, handed down by U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin in Manhattan, agrees that the Google Books project is legal under U.S. copyright regulations. 

As the Atlantic Wire explained before, Google had to prove that its book scanning project was transformative in nature, and that its benefits were not primarily commercial, in order to stay within the bounds of U.S. copyright law. The court ruled in the company's favor on both points. 

The authors and publishers bringing suit against the company argued that Google had to ask permission of the copyright holders before scanning the works. But the project, which allows users to search the full text of 20 million books, does not grant full access to the digital copies of the texts. Thus, Chin wrote, "Google Books does not supersede or supplant books because it is not a tool to be used to read books." The opinion added, "Instead, it 'adds value to the original' and allows for 'the creation of new information, new aesthetics, new insights and understandings.'" In short, it is "transformative." 

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The Authors Guild will likely appeal Chin's decision. But if it stands, this means Google will be able to expand its database of searchable books. Chin's opinion argues that pretty much everyone benefits from the project, because it allows researchers, librarians, and students easier access to new books. Here's the opinion's conclusive take on those benefits, as flagged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation: 

 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.

Chin rejected a settlement of $125 million two years ago, in a case that could have potentially cost the company $3 billion in damages. That rejection was due in part to complains from rival organizations like the Internet Archive, Wired explains, who argued that Google would essentially have a monopoly over any unclaimed scanned books. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.