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Google triumphs

18 November 2013

After eight years of litigation over Google's scanning of more than 20 million books in libraries, Judge Denny Chin has come down in their favour:

‘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. Google Books has become an important tool for libraries and librarians and site-checkers as it helps to identify and find books. The use of book text to facilitate search through the display of snippets is transformative.'

He further concluded that: ‘A reasonable factfinder could only find that Google Books enhances the sales of books to the benefit of copyright holders. An important factor in the success of an individual title is whether it is discovered - whether potential readers learn of its existence. Google Books provides a way for authors' works to become noticed, much like traditional in-store book displays. Indeed, both librarians and their patrons use Google Books to identify books to purchase. In this day and age of on-line shopping, there can be no doubt but that Google Books improves books sales.'

Publishers settled last year but the Authors' Guild has fought a tough battle to have Google stopped on the grounds that they were infringing authors' copyright. Amongst the media supporting the decision was the Washington Post: ‘If the ruling is upheld on appeal, it will represent a significant triumph for Google. More important, it would expand fair use rights, benefiting many other technology companies. Many innovative media technologies involve aggregating or indexing copyrighted content. Today's ruling is the clearest statement yet that such projects fall on the right side of the fair use line.'

Both the Washington Post and Forbes see the decision as favouring the big technology companies and freeing them up for much more innovation. The case for the Authors' Guild case has not been strongly repeated and in any case their concerns are unlikely to affect the outcome, unless they gain traction through an appeal. Let's hope this is the right decision - an awful lot of authors' work is at risk if it is not.