The U.S Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has affirmed a 2013 lower court ruling that Google’s library book scanning project is protected by fair use and is not copyright infringement.
The suit, The Authors Guild vs. Google, filed by the Authors Guild in 2005, charged Google with copyright infringement for scanning millions of titles and making them available via libraries and making snippets of the titles available via online search.
Rejecting the Authors Guild’s appeal of Judge Denny Chin's 2013 ruling in favor of Google, the Second Circuit said that Google’s scanning and distribution of the titles to libraries was a “transformative use which augments public knowledge by making available information about Plaintiff’s books.” The court rejected the Guild’s contention that Google was providing a substitute for the works themselves, holding that the public display of text is limited. The court also supported Google’s use of “snippets,” short passages displayed to help identify the works and noted that "Google's commercial nature and profit motivation do not justify denial of fair use."
Finally, the court wrote, that Google’s distribution of digital copies to participating libraries, “is non-infringing, and the mere speculative possibility that the libraries might allow use of their copies in an infringing manner does not make Google a contributory infringer.”
The Guild and its lawyers were still reviewing the decision Friday morning and could not comment. Its only avenue now is an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a statement Friday afternoon, a spokesperson from Google said, "Today’s decision underlines what people who use the service tell us: Google Books gives them a useful and easy way to find books they want to read and buy, while at the same time benefiting copyright holders. We're pleased the court has confirmed that the project is fair use, acting like a card catalog for the digital age."
Early Friday afternoon, the Guild issued a statement saying it was disappointed in the ruling and said that "It's our present intention to petition the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari."
Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the Guild, said in a statement: “America owes its thriving literary culture to copyright protection. It is because of that success that today we take copyright incentives for granted, and that courts as respected as the Second Circuit are unable to see the damaging effect that uses such as Google’s will have on authors’ potential income. We are very disheartened that the court was unable to understand the grave impact that this decision, if left standing, could have on copyright incentives and, ultimately, our literary heritage. We trust that the Supreme Court will see fit to correct the Second Circuit’s reduction of fair use to a one-factor test – whether the use is, in the court’s eye, “transformative.”
This article was updated Friday afternoon.