Google Books Lawsuit Dismissed on Grounds of Fair Use

Read It and Weep, Copyright Holders: Google Books Lawsuit Dismissed on Grounds of Fair Use

Written by Domenic Romano

Read It and Weep, Copyright Holders: Google Books Lawsuit Dismissed on Grounds of Fair Use

On November 14, 2013, a federal judge in New York City dismissed a class-action lawsuit against Google. The court found that the Internet giant’s popular, Google Books program has not infringed upon the copyrights of book publishers and authors.

Since its launch in 2004, Google Books has digitally reproduced millions of copyrighted books, made digital copies available for its library partners to download, and displayed snippets from the books to the public – all  without ever obtaining permission from copyright holders. In 2005, The Authors Guild, America’s largest trade organization for published authors, sued Google for copyright infringement. 

Eight years and 20,000,000 books later we have a decision. Judge Denny Chin applied the doctrine of fair use to the Google Books project, which provides a narrow defense to copyright infringement. To determine if a work qualifies as a fair use, Judge Chin had to consider the following four-factor fair use test:

    1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
    2. The nature of the copyrighted work
    3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  1. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

Judge Chin found that three of the four factors favored a finding of fair use, while only one supported the Authors Guild’s infringement claim.

As a “key consideration,” Judge Chin focused on whether Google added new meaning to the books and opined that, “Google’s use of the copyrighted works is highly transformative. Google Books digitizes books and transforms expressive text into a comprehensive word index that helps readers, scholars, researchers, and others find books.

A full analysis of the first fair use factor must consider “the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.” Judge Chin acknowledged that Google sold advertisements alongside its books until 2011 and observed the commercial benefit to Google from the Google Books’ users drawn to its website. However, he ultimately found that the transformative nature and educational purposes of the Google Books database outweighed the profit-seeking motivations of the tech heavyweight, currently trading at  over $1,000 per share.

The importance of this win is undeniable for Google, who could have faced millions of dollars in damages. The Authors Guild plans to appeal the trial court’s decision, stating they “disagree with and are disappointed by the court’s decision.”

Judge Chin’s ruling seems to permit competing Internet companies, like Amazon and Bing, to implement a similar system without first obtaining copyright holders’ consent.

If you were an Author, would you find it unfair for Google to do this with your work, or do you believe you would benefit from having a book in Google’s free and worldwide library?

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