Google Prevails in Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Against Google Books

After an eight year class action copyright infringement battle in and out of court, Google won the right to continue its Google Books project to digitize books. According to Judge Denny Chin’s November 14, 2013 Ruling, to date, Google digitized, indexed, and made available for search more than 20 million books. Even though many of these books were still within copyright, Google never received permission from the copyright holders. Judge Chin ultimately found Google’s actions not to be in violation of copyright laws and sided with Google in its “fair use” doctrine defense.

In September 2005, the plaintiffs, including 3 authors and The Author’s Guild, mounted a class action lawsuit against Google, alleging that “Google committed copyright infringement by scanning copyrighted books and making them available for search without permission of the copyright holders.” In fact, as part of its Library Project, Google partnered with major libraries, including the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, and multiple university libraries to digitize their volumes. In return for providing the library systems with digitized versions of their own books, Google made these books available for search using its own search engine. Plaintiffs complained that in addition to an “About the Book” result, many of the search results provided snippets, or 1/8 page results of the actual copyrighted text, for which Google never obtained permission.

In deciding this matter, Judge Chin assumed the plaintiffs established a prima facie case of copyright infringement; however, he concluded that Google’s argument of the “fair use” doctrine was valid. In his reasoning, the judge analyzed the four factor that constitute fair use (per section 107 of the Copyright Act):

1. The purpose and character of the use

2. Nature of the copyrighted works

3. Amount and substantiality of portion used

4. Effect of use upon potential market or value

Judge Chin found that although the amount and substantiality of use “weighs slightly against a finding of fair use,” the combination of his findings regarding the other factors above were in Google’s favor. First, Google’s “highly transformative” process and non-engagement in “the direct commercialization of copyrighted works” is in line with this stance. Second, Google’s digitization of predominantly non-fiction published books further upholds this argument. Third, “Google Books enhances the sales of books to the benefit of copyright holders.” Overall, Judge Chin found that “all society benefits” from the Google Books project.


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