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Google Notches a Big Legal Victory in Book Scanning Case

Fair use is fair use, even for Google.


The latest, and perhaps final, turn in a testy 10-year case against Google for its audacious plan to digitally scan the world’s books has fallen in Google’s favor. On Friday, a U.S. court of appeals in New York ruled that Google’s actions are protected by the “fair use” clause in copyright law.

The Authors Guild, along with several individual authors, sued Google for its book practice in 2005 (back when Google was only 7,000 employees!). They claimed the search engine’s practice of releasing snippets of published books for free violated copyright law and robbed them of revenue. Google said not so.

The three justices on the appeals court noted that the case “test[s] the boundaries of fair use,” but ultimately concluded it falls within them. Critically, the judges claimed that digital scanning is in the public interest, calling the practice “highly transformative” — language that Google probably likes.

The court wrote: “The purpose of the copying is highly transformative, the public display of text is limited, and the revelations do not provide a significant market substitute for the protected aspects of the originals. Google’s commercial nature and profit motivation do not justify denial of fair use.”

In 2013, Google scored a similar victory with a ruling in the U.S. District Court. The Authors Guild appealed the ruling.

A Google rep sends along this statement: “Today’s decision underlines what people who use the service tell us: Google Books gives them a useful and easy way to find books they want to read and buy, while at the same time benefiting copyright holders. We’re pleased the court has confirmed that the project is fair use, acting like a card catalog for the digital age.”

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