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Google wins dismissal of suit over digital books

Sophia Pearson//November 15, 2013

Google wins dismissal of suit over digital books

Sophia Pearson//November 15, 2013

Google Inc.’s project to digitally copy millions of books for online searches doesn’t violate copyright law, a federal judge ruled, dismissing an eight-year-old lawsuit against the largest search-engine company.

The Google logo is seen on a sign outside of Google Inc. headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Google plans to create an online database of the world’s books and has scanned more than 12 million so far, according to the complaint filed by the artists. Photo by Erin Lubin/Bloomberg News
Photo by Erin Lubin/Bloomberg News

Google Books provides a public benefit and is a fair use of copyrighted material, Judge Denny Chin in Manhattan ruled Thursday. The project, which has scanned more than 20 million books so far, doesn’t harm authors or inventors of original works, Chin ruled.

“Google Books provides significant public benefits,” Chin wrote. “It advances the progress of the arts and sciences, while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals, and without adversely impacting the rights of copyright holders.”

Chin’s decision comes more than two years after he rejected a proposed $125 million settlement in the case filed by The Authors Guild, which represents writers and individual authors. The group sued in 2005 alleging that Google, owner of the world’s most popular search engine, infringed copyrights by scanning and indexing books without writers’ permission.

Google Books digitizes books and transforms expressive text into a comprehensive word index that helps researchers and others find books, Chin, an appeals judge sitting in U.S. District Court, said in his opinion.

The project has become an important tool for libraries because it makes millions of books searchable by words and phrases, he said.

“Google Books does not supersede or supplant books because it is not a tool to be used to read books,” the judge wrote. “Instead, it adds value to the original.”

Google does not sell the scans it makes of books or sell the snippets of books it displays although the company does benefit from users drawn to the site, Chin wrote. Writers also benefit because the scanning project could enhance the sales of books, he wrote.

“Google Books provides a way for authors’ works to become noticed, much like traditional in-store book displays,” according to the opinion. “Many authors have noted that online browsing in general and Google Books in particular helps readers find their work, thus increasing their audiences.”

Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., in October 2012 reached an agreement with five publishers to end their objections to the digital scanning. The accord allows U.S. publishers to choose whether to make their books and articles available for scanning or have them removed.

The publishers include McGraw-Hill Cos., Pearson Education Inc., Penguin Group USA Inc., John Wiley & Sons Inc. and Simon & Schuster Inc., which is owned by CBS Inc.

“This has been a long road, and we are absolutely delighted with today’s judgment,” Google said in an emailed statement. “As we have long said, Google Books is in compliance with copyright law and acts like a card catalog for the digital age, giving users the ability to find books to buy or borrow.”

Sandy Long, a spokeswoman for the Authors Guild, didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the ruling.

The case is Authors Guild v. Google, 1:05-cv-08136, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).


With assistance from Christie Smythe in Brooklyn.

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