The Second Circuit Court of Appeals court has affirmed a ruling 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 amounted to piracy.
A three-judge panel in New York rejected copyright infringement claims from The Authors Guild, foreign author rights groups, and several individual writers, and found that the project provides a public service without breaking the law.
The authors sued Google, whose parent company is now named Alphabet, in 2005, a year after the Google Books project was launched. They claimed that the scanning illegally deprived them of revenue. Google countered with the argument that the effort would actually boost book sales by making it easier for readers to find works, while introducing them to books they might not otherwise have seen.
Circuit Judge Denny Chin, who presided over the case at the district court level, at first rejected a proposed settlement between Google and the authors before dismissing the case in 2013, prompting the authors' appeal. Chin found Google's scanning of tens of millions of books and posting snippets online constituted fair use under US copyright law.
A unanimous three-judge appeals panel agreed, saying 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.
The Second Circuit had previously rejected a similar lawsuit from The Authors Guild in June 2014 against the HaithiTrust, a consortium of universities and research libraries that built a searchable online database of millions of scanned works. That ruling set the stage for today's decision, almost making the ruling a pro forma event.
A Google spokesperson and a lawyer for the authors did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to PW, The Authors Guild's lawyers are still reviewing the decision Friday morning. They haven't said whether they will continue to fight this case, but of they do then their only option would be to appeal to the US Supreme Court.
The case is Authors Guild v. Google, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 13-4829.
(by Joseph Ax for Reuters, editing by Nate Hoffelder)
image by Robert Scoble