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Google Books Project Ruled Fair Use by US Appeals Court—ARL Releases Issue Brief

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image CC-BY by Shawn Collins

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit unanimously ruled on Friday, October 16, 2015, in Authors Guild v. Google—also known as the “Google Books” case—that Google’s mass scanning and digital indexing of books for use in creating a searchable online library constituted a legal “fair use” of copyrighted material rather than an infringement.

Starting in 2004, Google, through its Library Project, made digital copies of tens of millions of books submitted to the project by libraries. Google then included these copies in a search index that displays “snippets” of the books in response to search queries. The Authors Guild and several authors sued Google in 2005, asserting that the project infringed their copyright. Google filed for summary judgment, arguing that its use was a fair use and, in 2013, the district court ruled in favor of Google. The plaintiffs appealed and the Second Circuit held on Friday that the copying of the books and the display of snippets is transformative and a fair use. Furthermore, Google’s provision of digital copies to its partner libraries that submitted the particular works is not an infringement.

The Second Circuit’s decision in this case is a strong affirmation of fair use and demonstrates the importance of the fair use doctrine in responding to new technological developments. The search and snippet functions of Google Books allow for important research, including research conducted through text and data mining, that would not be possible without the large searchable database created by Google. Additionally, Google’s digitization of certain works from library collections demonstrates an important partnership, which has allowed libraries to make fair uses of these copies, including providing access for those who are visually impaired.

On Friday, the Library Copyright Alliance—the American Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries, and the Association of Research Libraries—issued a statement applauding the Second Circuit’s decision (PDF).

The Authors Guild plans to appeal the case to the US Supreme Court, though it is far from clear whether the Supreme Court would take up the case.

For an in-depth analysis of the Second Circuit’s decision, see the ARL Policy Notes blog post “Second Circuit Affirms Fair Use in Google Books Case,” which has now been published as an Association of Research Libraries issue brief (PDF).

Also, the Library Copyright Alliance has updated its one-page “Google Books Litigation Family Tree” (PDF), summarizing the case’s chronology in a graphical format.


About the Association of Research Libraries

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 124 research libraries in the US and Canada. ARL’s mission is to influence the changing environment of scholarly communication and the public policies that affect research libraries and the diverse communities they serve. ARL pursues this mission by advancing the goals of its member research libraries, providing leadership in public and information policy to the scholarly and higher education communities, fostering the exchange of ideas and expertise, facilitating the emergence of new roles for research libraries, and shaping a future environment that leverages its interests with those of allied organizations. ARL is on the web at http://www.arl.org/.

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