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Google Books copyright infringement lawsuit dismissed

By Michael Furlano

In a landmark decision JudgeChinSJdecision-c.pdf, Federal District Court Judge Denny Chin dismissed copyright infringement claims against Google's Google Books project. The decision caps an eight-year legal battle brought by the Authors Guild and other individual copyright holders. The plaintiffs alleged that Google's reproduction, distribution, and display of millions of copyrighted books infringed their copyrights, while Google has always claimed that the project was fair use. The court held that Google's searchable book index that scanned, copied, and displayed copyrighted text is fair use under ยง 107 of the Copyright Act.

In making its decision, the court analyzed four fair use pillars:

1. The purpose and character of the use;
2. The nature of the copyrighted work;
3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
4. How the use affected the potential market or value of the copyrighted work

The court's decision rested on two main factors: (1) the purpose and character of the infringing use, and (2) the infringing use's effect on the copyrighted work's potential market or value.

Purpose and Character

The main consideration of purpose and character is whether the infringing use is transformative. Here, the court held that Google's use was highly transformative, because it used the copyrighted text to create a searchable book index, similar to how using thumbnail images as a search tool is fair use. This is different than using the material solely for consumption purposes. The court also found that the index opened up new research possibilities by facilitating word usage data mining. Finally, the court stated that Google's commercial nature did not outweigh Google Books' "important educational purposes."

Nature of Copyrighted Work

Analyzing the nature of copyrighted works requires examining how much of the work's market and value is foreclosed by the infringing use. The court rejected the plaintiff's argument that Google Books would replace the market for physical and digital books. It noted that Google restricts access to full books, except for libraries that provided the originals to scan, and it is not possible to circumvent those restrictions. Instead, Google Books actually enhances book sales by facilitating book discovery and providing links to purchase those books.

The court summarized its analysis by stating that Google Books provides "significant public benefits" and "advances the progress of the arts and sciences." This is good news for Google, who would have faced damages of up to $150,000 per infringement. This is also good news for fair use advocates, as it further clarifies the Copyright Act's fair use doctrine. The plaintiffs, however, plan to immediately appeal.

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