After Nine-Year Legal Battle, Google Books Wins Fair Use Ruling Before District Court

Today was a good day for Google and was a long time in the making. A federal district court awarded Google summary judgment with respect to authors’ claims of copyright infringement arising out of the mass digitization of works related to its Google Books project.

Judge Chin of the Southern District of New York ruled today that Google’s use of digital copies for full-text searching of 20 million books is “highly” transformative and thus constitutes fair use that does not require authorization from copyright holders. According to the court, the use of the full text of tens of millions of books for its online search function is a transformative use and thus Google’s mass digitization of those books without authorization from copyright holders constitutes fair use ( Authors Guild, Inc. v. Google Inc., S.D.N.Y., No. 05 Civ. 8136 (DC), 11/14/13 ). Noting that the books at issue are largely non-fiction and that the project enabled researchers to locate previously lost books and perform “data mining,” the court was not dissuaded from a finding of fair use simply because Google’s use is largely commercial or that its use involved a copy of the entire work. The court found that Google Books did not destroy the market for the books (because you can only read small snippets of the book), but that it instead enhanced the market for the books as well as providing a substantial benefit for the public.

We will all be hearing a lot more about this ruling and what it means for rights holders and for businesses premised on using or synthesizing the intellectual property of others.

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