Friday, October 16, 2015

2nd Circuit Rules Index-Building Google Book Scanning Project ‘Fair Use’, Legal Because ‘Transformative’ In Nature

The project creates a database of searchable "snippets" of books, with just enough context from the books' body text to allow the user to determine whether the book falls within the user's criteria for the research at hand. Google does not supply any substantial portion of the body text that could be read by a human user as a substitute for the book itself. In other words, it's the ultimate version of the "card catalog" from the libraries of my youth. Preparing the snippets from the world's approximately 130 million books is Google's "transformative" task that renders such an index "fair use" under even the ridiculously limited copyright law in place today.

That doesn't stop the Author's Guild from filing suit against Google for more than 10 years to this point. And it won't stop the current US Supreme Court, with Chief Justice Roberts who never fails to prefer a ruling in favor of a vendor in preference to a customer, an association in preference to an individual, the interests of a commercial entity in preference to those of a researcher or scholar, etc. etc., from overturning the original ruling and the appeals courts to this point if he, um, if the Court feel[s] like it. Stay tuned.

The easiest way to get a handle on the fundamentals of this issue is (yes, I grasp the irony in this) to read the articles that are listed when you search Google News for "Google book scanning". The first time I searched a few minutes ago, Google News turned up the following articles:

Search again for yourself and YMMV. If by some miracle the ruling survives today's crack‑brained US Supreme Court, it will be a big deal indeed.


  1. I was curious so I looked up several books in Google Books. Two of them were "Yankee Pasha" and "American Captain" by Edison Marshall. The content provided amounted to two or three paragraphs excerpted from each book -- for some editions, nothing at all outside of links to online stores.and some publication info. I don't know if these are typical results, but I don't see how such excerpts could be even very useful, much less harmful. It's way less than one finds on Amazon's "Look Inside" previews.

    1. pj, from what I've been told, a copyright is sustainable only if its holder defends it "assiduously" ... that's the word that's always used; I don't know if it's in law somewhere... and I suspect that's what the AG feels it is doing, or is trying to convey a strong impression that is what it is doing. I have to say, though, that sustaining a lawsuit against Google for over 10 years has to be a fool's errand, not to mention a waste of money... even if they win, they lose.

      But what do I expect of an association that has the antiquated term "Guild" in its name...



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