Federal Judge Rules Google Book-Scanning Project "Fair Use"

November 15, 2013
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A federal judge on Thursday ruled that Google’s use of copyrighted works in its library books digitization project is “fair use” under copyright laws and therefore does not infringe on authors.

Judge Denny Chin of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit described libraries’ uses of their Google-digitized copies as “lawful” and “transformative.” In 2004, U-M was the first library to sign a book scanning agreement with Google.

In a statement, the Authors Guild said it would appeal the decision.

James Hilton, university librarian and dean of libraries, and Paul Courant, who stepped down from that role in September, applauded the decision. The two worked together closely in the early days of the partnership with Google when Hilton was U-M’s interim university librarian, and Courant as provost.

“The judge’s decision affirms what we have always believed about the transformative benefits of library digitization to both the public at large and to research and scholarship,” Courant says.

Courant and Hilton credit the university’s steadfast support for the endeavor, and Hilton points to Chin’s finding that Google Books also benefits copyright holders by enhancing sales.

“There is much more common ground than difference between libraries and authors,” Hilton says.

Chin wrote in his ruling that “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 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.”

The decision sounds a similar note to last year’s summary judgment for U-M in the Authors Guild lawsuit that alleged copyright infringement by HathiTrust and several of its participating libraries. The Authors Guild appealed that ruling. Oral arguments were heard in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals last month, and the decision is pending.

It also marks a significant moment in a legal case that began in 2005 when the Authors Guild joined with the Association of American Publishers in a lawsuit against Google and its book-scanning project. In 2011, Chin rejected a proposed settlement and in 2012 the publishers settled separately with Google.

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Last modified: 11/15/2013