Judge OK’s Google Book Scanning Project

Like the “snippets” of text that Google makes available to facilitate online searching of books, yesterday’s ruling in the copyright infringement suit against the search engine operator provides tantalizing glimpses into the complex world of Internet publishing, marketing and research.

In a decision that caught many by surprise, U.S. District Court Judge Denny Chin upheld Google’s Library Project, ruling that it constitutes “fair use” as defined by the U.S. Copyright Act. Chin acknowledged that the Library Project, under which Google (1) scans books without seeking or obtaining the copyright holders’ permission, (2) provides digital copies of the books to libraries, and (3) displays verbatim snippets of their content to help users of its search engine find the books, violates the Copyright Act’s prohibitions against the unauthorized reproduction, distribution and display of copyrighted material. But he asserted that these actions were defensible under the fair use exception, for the following reasons:

  • By digitizing the books and placing snippets of their content online, Google has created a “transformative” tool to help readers and scholars identify and find books;
  • The books are already published and available to the public;
  • Google limits the number of snippets, and thus the overall amount of content, it displays; and
  • By displaying the snippets of content online, Google promotes the sale of the books, which benefits their copyright holders.

“An important factor in the success of an individual title is whether it is discovered—whether potential readers learn of its existence,” Chin wrote in his decision. “Google Books provides a way for authors’ works to become noticed, much like traditional in-store book displays. Indeed, both librarians and their patrons use Google Books to identify books to purchase. Many authors have noted that online browsing in general and Google Books in particular helps readers find their work, thus increasing their audiences.”

To read the full text of Chin’s ruling, click here.

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