Judge Deems Digitizing Books Fair Use

Google Privacy PolicyGoogle wins again! The online giant emerged victorious from their intellectual property scrap with the Author’s Guild. They battled over Google’s book digitization project, and the circuit court’s final decision was “fair use”. Did presiding judge Denny Crane Chin make the right call? Let’s quickly examine the suit.

A Short Summary Of The Google Book Scanning Lawsuit

The case of the book scanning behemoth began in 2005. Writers complained that their works were being copied and posted online for free and without permission. After a judge had denied a posse of authors’ class action certification, the Author’s Guild grabbed the conch and filed a lawsuit against Google on behalf of its members.

And, as the saying goes, they were off! Each clever legal maneuver was met with an equally cunning move. Litigation ensued. Years passed.

Denny Chin Must Decide

After exhausting every possible option and argument, Judge Chin retired to consider the arguments. Was Google correct? Was its digital book project a huge benefit to society? Since the company made efforts to ensure that entire books didn’t find their way online, could it be considered an infringement? Or was the Author’s Guild correct in saying that Google was essentially stealing writers’ work for its own profit?

Advantage Google

In the end, Chin sided with Big G. In his ruling, he reasoned that digitizing books is “transformative” and in theory could help to boost book sales, not impede them. Additionally, Chin opined, “In my view, Google Books provide significant public benefits. Indeed, all society benefits.”

The use of the word transformative is important when analyzing intellectual property cases as transformation is a crucial element of the fair use doctrine. Specifically, if a work is significantly altered in some way, it’s considered transformative, and, therefore, falls into the fair use category.

Needless to say, the Author’s Guild is none too pleased with the ruling and plans to appeal, arguing that Google’s project “exceeds the bounds of fair use.”

Fair Use and Online Intellectual Property

We don’t see a judge reversing this decision, though, since only snippets of the books are made available online. Moreover, the question of whether or not a search engine is liable for IP infringement for displaying informative “extracts” from a given webpage was already explored and answered in the seminal case Kelly v. Arriba Soft Corporation.

In brief, the issue at hand in Arriba was whether or not a search engine had the right to display low-quality thumbnails in its search results. In the end, courts ruled that low resolution images were fair use and allowable.

Snippets of a book could be considered the literary equivalent to a low-res thumbnail. So, if we follow the Arriba logic, it’s safe to say that Google will probably continue to come out on top – even at the appeals level.

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