Google Books: Authors Guild v. Google Case Back in Court Today, Fair Use is the Focus
UPDATE September 24, 2013 7pm
ARL Has Posted the Complete Transcript of Yesterday’s Hearing (PDF)
UPDATE September 23, 2013 7pm
Coverage of Today’s Authors Guild v. Google Hearing Re: Fair Use
1. U.S. judge boosts Google ‘fair use’ defense of digital books (via Reuters)
At a hearing in U.S. district court in New York on Monday, Judge Denny Chin said the question of fair use relies in part on whether the project “is a benefit to society.”
Chin then rattled off several examples of how Google’s project has helped people find information, including his own law clerks.
“Aren’t these transformative uses, and don’t they benefit society?” asked Chin.
An attorney for the guild said that while some uses may benefit society in some instances, it should not override authors’ rights to control the content they created.
“Then there’s a question of whether Google has to pay for it,” Edward Rosenthal, an attorney representing the Authors Guild, told the court.
The back-and-forth between Rosenthal and Chin dominated a 45-minute hearing on the eight-year old proceeding.
Another question Chin fixated on was the guild’s argument that the Google service harms authors by diverting business away from Amazon and other booksellers once consumers realize they can find excerpts on the Google site for free.
Chin conceded that it is possible that a reader might decide to abandon a possible purchase because of the Google site, but questioned whether such an outcome was a “reasonable” possibility.
At Monday’s hearing, a lawyer for the authors harrumphed that Google was “the copy shop of the twenty-first century” and that the company is getting rich off book-related searches. This argument may be wearing thin, however, given that there’s little evidence that Google’s book search function undercuts online book sales.
Monday’s hearing was shorter than anticipated and its biggest surprise may have been the high profile Googlers in attendance. Head counsel and SVP David Drummond was there, as well as renowned copyright scholar Bill Patry. So was Alexander MacGillivray, a longtime Google lawyer who recently stepped down as general counsel of Twitter.
The company is set to argue today in federal court in Manhattan that the fair-use provision of the Copyright Act shields it from liability for copyright infringement. Authors and a trade group oppose the project, claiming Google has taken away their rights for its own gain without compensating them.
U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin will preside over a hearing at which Google seeks to end an eight-year-old lawsuit by the Authors Guild and individual writers. If Chin eventually finds Google liable for infringement, it could cost the company more than $3 billion in damages and end a project on which it has spent as much as $40 million annually.
The issue of fair use is being argued today because of a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York. Chin certified the suit as a class action, meaning that the named authors — Jim Bouton, Betty Miles and Joseph Goulden — could stand for all authors of books in Google’s project. Google appealed and the appeals court overturned Chin’s ruling in July, saying that the District Court should rule on the fair-use argument first.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (email@example.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.