A U.S. appeals court ruled on Friday that Google’s massive effort to scan millions of books for an online library does not violate copyright law, rejecting claims from a group of authors that the project illegally deprives them of revenue.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York rejected infringement claims from the Authors Guild and several individual writers, and found that the project provides a public service without violating intellectual property law.
A unanimous three-judge appeals panel said the case “tests the boundaries of fair use,” but found Google’s practices were ultimately allowed under the law.
“Google’s division of the page into tiny snippets is designed to show the searcher just enough context surrounding the searched term to help her evaluate whether the book falls within the scope of her interest (without revealing so much as to threaten the author’s copyright interests),” Circuit Judge Pierre Leval wrote for the court.
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Google Statement (in “Google Book Scanning Counts as ‘Fair Use’ Says Appeals Court”; via Digital Trends)
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,” a Google spokesperson said in a press statement.
America owes its thriving literary culture to copyright protection. It is because of that success that today we take copyright incentives for granted, and that courts as respected as the Second Circuit are unable to see the damaging effect that uses such as Google’s will have on authors’ potential income. Most full-time authors live on the edge of being able to keep writing as a profession, as our recent income survey showed; a loss of licensing revenue can tip the balance, particularly in this era when advances and royalties for most authors are down.
“America owes its thriving literary culture to copyright protection,” Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the Authors Guild in New York, said in a statement. “We are very disheartened that the court was unable to understand the grave impact that this decision, if left standing, could have on copyright incentives and, ultimately, our literary heritage. We trust that the Supreme Court will see fit to correct the Second Circuit’s reduction of fair use to a one-factor test – whether the use is, in the court’s eye, ‘transformative.’”
The appeals court ruled that Google Books is fair use despite the company’s commercial motivation. Other recognized forms of fair use, including news reporting and commentary, quotation, book reviews and parodies, are generally done for profit, Leval said in the opinion.