Appeals Court Rules Google’s Book-Scanning Project is Legal

4249731778_ab4fc01fd9_bThe Authors Guild lost the latest round in its decade-old legal battle with Google on Friday.

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


  1. Eric17 October, 2015

    The AG’s obsession with the case hurts authors. Had they been more prescient, they could have worked out a deal with Google that would have given the authors a small royalty every time a work was accessed or a snippet viewed or a page read, much as Amazon does with KU. This would have helped market the books while getting the authors some income and set a precedent for other scanning. Now the horse has left the barn.. The only people to benefit from this suit are their lawyers who seem to have an inability to read handwriting a wall.

    1. Nate Hoffelder17 October, 2015

      Well, the early obsession made sense. There was no market other than print (digital was a failed idea at that point) so it made sense to fight to protect print sales.

      But after abut 2010, TAG really should have reevaluated their motives and objectives. They’re still fighting the same battle they were ten years ago over issues that don’t matter any more.

  2. […] The author’s guild court appeal […]


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