Google Inc. can go ahead and create a digital library of millions of books without paying authors, a U.S. appeals court said, ruling the company’s plan is a “fair use” under copyright law.
The company has called its Google Books project “incredibly transformative,” arguing that its mission to help people find books and view excerpts online is legally permitted. The ruling promises to help Mountain View, California-based Google retain its dominance in online searches.
Google already scanned more than 20 million books, beginning in 2004. Under its plan it won’t make copies of the books available, but only provide a short excerpt and a link to where people can buy the book, or borrow it from a library.
“Google Books thus enables users to identify, determine the relevance of, and locate books they might never have found using old-fashioned card or electronic catalogs,” the company said in a filing to the New York-based appeals court. “A large portion of humanity’s knowledge, however, lies on the printed pages of books that need to be discovered and located before they can be read.”
The appeals panel upheld a lower-court decision throwing out a copyright lawsuit by writers including Jim Bouton, the former New York Yankees pitcher’s “Ball Four” — a behind-the- scenes look at life in the major leagues — which was published in 1970.
The Authors Guild, a writers’ organization, argued the Google project is “quintessentially commercial in nature” and intended to advance the company’s business interests. The group claimed that Google Books violates authors’ rights to control their works. The Guild may ask the Supreme Court to consider the case.
The Authors Guild sued in 2005 alleging that Google infringed copyrights by scanning and indexing books without writers’ permission. Judge Denny Chin ruled in November 2013 that Google Books provides a public benefit and doesn’t harm authors. Chin, a judge on the appeals court, didn’t participate in the review of his decision.
The case is Authors Guild v. Google Inc., 13-4829, Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (Manhattan).
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