Google Books Case Dismissed

29 Nov

Alright, I know I’m a little late in posting about this, as Judge Chin dismissed the case brought by the Author’s Guild against Google Books on November 14th, but I’ve been busy, folks! Exams! Holidays! Etc.!

However, here’s the scoop on Google Books:

The case has been ongoing for eight years (!), since 2005, brought by the Author’s Guild against Google for scanning entire works. Author’s Guild saw this as an infringement on copyright, and not fair use. The judge, Denny Chin, saw it differently.

On the four factors used to determine copyright infringement, Chin found Google in slight violation of only one tenant. In terms of purpose and character of use, Chin called Google’s project “transformative,” and said it opens new fields of research. Instead of superseding or supplanting the copyrighted work, it adds value to the original. Regarding the nature of the copyrighted work, 93% of scanned works are non-fiction, which Chin believes is fine, though fiction may need further copyright litigation. Regarding the amount and substantiality of the portions used (from copyrighted works) Google was in violation, as they were, indeed, scanning the entire work. However, in the effect of use upon the potential market or value for a work, Google was absolved since they do not sell the scans, gain no ad revenue from the web pages, and doesn’t commercialize the copyrighted works. Chin stated the project advances arts and sciences, enhances searchability of these often lost texts, provides preservation services and provides access for “print-disabled” parties.

This dismissal very clearly laid out new precedent in terms of fair use for copyrighted material, especially for old, nearly forgotten works of nonfiction. In the information age there are innumerable ways to use and transform works that add value to the original (for instance, making something that was a bound reference work into a searchable database, or the like). With a dismissal in this case, artists, computer scientists and web designers can continue to break apart and reform works into something new and original, and if accused of copyright infringement, can point to this case as precedent for the legality of their work.

This dismissal can be seen as a slippery slope for writers/authors/publishers, but I believe this lawsuit was leveled so long ago, in the wake of the music industry freakout over Napster, that the Author’s Guild couldn’t anticipate how utterly awesome it would be to be able to search for copyrighted works by bits of text (and the idea that the searcher can then go borrow or buy the book they need). Since the Guild is comprised of authors, not computer scientists, I don’t think the ultimate goal of the Google Books project was clear to them. This program could help to digitally preserve old books and orphan works, revitalize backlist items and shed new light on works that would have languished in obscurity. Authors rejoice!

Some would say the Guild dropped the ball with this lawsuit, as they should have had their eyes trained on Amazon in 2005, a company that now has an unhealthy strangle-hold on book marketshare.

Sources and more info:

Albanese, A. (2013, November 14). Google Wins: Court Issues a Ringing Endorsement of Google Books. PublishersWeekly.com: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/content-and-e-books/article/60006-google-wins-court-issues-a-ringing-endorsement-of-google-books.html

Copyright Clearance Center online (2013, November 15). Beyond the Book Podcast: Judge Rules in Google Books Scan Case: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/content-and-e-books/article/60016-podcast-judge-rules-in-google-books-scan-case.html

Digital Book World online (2013, November 14). American Library Association Applauds Judge’s Google Book Scanning Decision: http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2013/american-library-association-applauds-judges-google-book-scanning-decision/

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One Response to “Google Books Case Dismissed”

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