Google Just Won One of Its Most Important Victories Ever

In a landmark decision, a federal judge has found that Google Books is protected by the "fair use" principle of copyright law

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Mike Segar / REUTERS

The main reading room of The New York Public Library is pictured December 14, 2004. The New York Public Library is among the libraries that announced on December 13, 2004 that they are partnering with Internet search engine Google Inc, to offer a collection of its public domain books, which will be scanned in their entirety and made available for free to the public online.

After eight years of legal wrangling, a federal judge delivered a resounding victory for Google on Thursday by dismissing a lawsuit from the Authors Guild challenging the tech giant’s ambitious book-scanning project. In a landmark decision, Judge Denny Chin, of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, found that Google Books is protected by the “fair use” principle of copyright law. In his opinion, Judge Chin wrote that the project “provides significant public benefits.”

Google hailed the verdict — as did the American Library Association, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Computer & Communications Industry Association. “This has been a long road and we are absolutely delighted with today’s judgement,” a Google spokesperson 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.”

The Authors Guild expressed chagrin at Judge Chin’s ruling and vowed to appeal. “We disagree with and are disappointed by the court’s decision today,” Authors Guild executive director Paul Aiken said in a statement. “This case presents a fundamental challenge to copyright that merits review by a higher court. Google made unauthorized digital editions of nearly all of the world’s valuable copyright-protected literature and profits from displaying those works. In our view, such mass digitization and exploitation far exceeds the bounds of fair use defense.”

When Google announced the book-scanning project in 2004, the idea captured the imagination of many in the tech world and academia. What if millions of books — including rare and out-of-print books — were made available on the Internet? Could the dream of a universal library — a mythical goal that has existed for two millennia since the destruction of the Library of Alexandria — finally be within reach?  For Google, it was a typically grandiose endeavor, undertaken under the leadership of company co-founder Larry Page, who made the effort one of his signature projects.

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Google initially announced partnerships with several important academic institutions and libraries including Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, and the New York Public Library. In order to digitize their collections, Google began scanning thousands of print books, page-by-page, using sophisticated robotic cameras, some capable of digitizing 1,000 pages per hour. To date, Google has scanned more than 20 million books. (Harvard has since withdrawn from the project in favor of an academic effort called the Digital Public Library of America — but not until after Google had already scanned some 850,000 books from its collection.)

In 2005, the Authors Guild filed a lawsuit claiming that the project violated copyright law and didn’t adequately provide for compensation to rights-holders and authors. Since then, the two sides have waged a closely watched legal battle that’s come to be viewed as a central front in the broader struggle between legacy pre-Internet industries, including publishing, music and movies, and new digital upstarts, led by Google, who aim to bring these industries into the digital age.

In 2011, Google and the Authors Guild tried to settle the dispute, but Judge Chin rejected their proposed $125 million pact, saying it violated the “property rights” of people without their consent, particularly in the case of “orphan works,” out-of-print books whose authors can’t be located. For its part, Google has always maintained that its project is protected by “fair use,” a legal concept that allows for certain types of reproduction, when used for criticism, journalism, teaching, and academic research.

In the wake of that failed agreement, the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers (AAP) split, and last year the AAP struck a deal with Google that gives publishers the choice to make their books available to Google for its project. Those who participate will have the option to receive a digital copy for their use, including to sell online. In Google’s model, users can browse up to 20% of books and then purchase digital versions through the Google Play online store, with rights-holders receiving a portion of the proceeds of the sale.

The Authors Guild lawsuit continued, however, leading up to Judge Chin’s decisive verdict on Thursday. In his ruling, Judge Chin agreed with Google’s legal argument that its book-scanning project, which makes so-called “snippets” of text available on the Internet, is protected by the “fair use” provision of U.S. copyright law. The judge found that Google’s book-scanning constituted a “transformative” use that “adds value to the original” and allows for “the creation of new information, new aesthetics, new insights and understandings.”

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“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,” Judge Chin wrote of Google Books. “It preserves books, in particular out-of-print and old books that have been forgotten in the bowels of libraries, and it gives them new life. It facilitates access to books for print-disabled and remote or underserved populations. It generates new audiences and creates new sources of income for authors and publishers. Indeed, all society benefits.”

The Library Copyright Alliance — which includes the American Library Association, the Association of College & Research Libraries and the Association of Research Libraries — hailed the decision. “This ruling furthers the purpose of copyright by recognizing that Google’s Book search is a transformative fair use that advances research and learning,” said Barbara Stripling, president of the American Library Association. Carol Pitts Diedrichs, president of the Association of Research Libraries, said the ruling “makes clear that fair use permits mass digitization of books for purposes that advance the arts and sciences, such as search, preservation and access for the print-disabled.”

Matt Schruers, vice president for law and policy at Computer & Communications Industry Association, called the ruling “a vindication for transformative technologies” on the Internet. “Judge Chin’s opinion makes unmistakably clear that the public’s access to revolutionary tools like Book Search, which advance research and understanding, and expand access to underserved populations, should not be limited by formalistic objections to scanning and indexing,” Schruers said in a statement.

Time and time again, the rapid progress of technological innovation outpaces existing legal and regulatory structures. Judge Chin’s decision is a clear-headed and common sense application of the “fair use” doctrine to a vexing and protracted legal battle that has dragged on for eight years. Judge Chin’s decision will set an important precedent that will pave the way for further technological innovation that benefits the public and advances the quest to make the world’s information accessible to people everywhere.


I recently typed my name and home town into Google and got the fright of my life when a line from my book came up in Google (showing personal information) along with a link to the first 20% of my book. 

The worst thing about this is that I have no control over the line of text that Google returns in it's searches and I would not have published this sensitive autobiographical book had I know it could be plastered all over the web in this way - the line of text Google returns shows my full name, home town and country, without an synopsis or explanation about what the book is about. 

So far I have written to Amazon, Google, Google Books and a company called Amazon Web Services where the extract is hosted but I cannot get the sample removed. It's is also extremely out-of-date extract and I doubt if it is ever going to be updated to the latest version which has a different title and opening chapter. The whole thing is distressing and embarrassing.  I don't think they should be allowed to scan non-fiction books in this way.


Judge Denny Chin was wrong, and I have just proved it to myself in an hour, using only Google and Google Books. if it were not for Google, I would have had to pay well over $200 to purchase a certain textbook (that I purchased last year, but the edition changed, and I was required to buy THE SAME BOOK with a different ISBN again this year.)

I went to Google Books, and using search techniques, was able to find the pages I need for my homework assignments. One page was omitted in the Google Books 'preview", so I went to Google and searched for a different keyword from the top of the page following the missing page.  This search led me not only to that page, but back to Google, which gave me a .pdf of the entire work (which is not supposed to be available in ebook form at all).

I am sure that thousands of students all over the world are able to use Google to avoid paying the publisher and the author of this most excellent textbook.... thanks in part to Judge Denny Chin. 

I feel that Judge Denny Chin ought to have tried to infringe copyright himself, using Google, before he called this "FAIR". I encourage other copyright enthusiasts to prove that he was wrong, too. 

Read more: Google Books Vindicated by Federal Judge on Fair Use Grounds |


The United States misspelled copy[rite] in 1790 because Benjamin Franklin had just died and was not there to protest combining the two words copy and rite into the compounding of copy and right in order to fool an entire country into creating a legal rite called a human right to help career lawyers. That human right has never existed in the United States but has in the rest of the world or at least "England" since 1735.      

Google Inc offered me five million once already and removed the book with my vulgar art in it from their book preview.  I guess I should watch and see if it reappears now.  NOT I bet art does not and I guarantee that this fair-use HOAX tacked into the US Copy[rite] regime will not apply to any other federal statute the organized business criminal Google Inc decides to ignore. 18 U.S.C. §2511 and 47 U.S.C. §605 are criminal statutes that do not care much about the fair-use HOAX. Class action counselors are invited to contact me by wire communications.  Especially before you bother appealing a fair-use ruling.  You can't win with the course you are taking and never has a real chance. There is a sure win for one class of artists but it does not use the misspelled American legal rite regime misspelling that was NOT in the dictionary when the Constitution was written.  It was coined as an intentional misspelling by Noah Webster and Benjamin Huntington or a lexicographer and a career lawyer in 1790 but was not in any dictionary till 1828 when Noah Webster wrote his first American Dictionary of the English language.


Eight years for a decision is a short period of time. My point is this, I am old and retired.The web came in in the latter part of my life. The progress has been at warp speed. Faster then the agriculture period,the industrial revolution,even financial and economic development have extended   for hundreds of years. This IT world is in it{s Model T era. Development should last at least 50 years more before we can say it is user friendly.  Of all the jabber and complaining out there about the servers and so on,who will be here ten years from now? Today Google is the eight hundred pound Gabrila in room. No ,I don{t own their stock. But I did order their new chrome book because what ever happens,I believe they will be here to support whatever products they bring out. They have the imagination and financial backing to to expand beyond what we can even imagine today. Look at the big picture and compare it to history and you will find your answers.............


Google should be told they can not show ANY advertising on ANY page that contains a single copyrighted book.   Then it is truly "fair use".     


@Soulice (1) I don't think they have or intend to start showing ads in that manner.

(2) I encourage you to look up the rules for "fair use". Making a profit does NOT invalidate fair use, at least not by itself. I can write a book review, quote sections of the book, and sell that review for profit. As long as the quotations meet the other criteria, this still qualifies as fair use.


fair-use is unconstitutionally vague and often violates the Berne Convention Article 6bis and is unconstitutional for far more fundamental reasons that will be clear in a few years to ALL of America. The United States agreed to respect the Berne Convention 100% twice as was ruled constitutional for replacing Title 17 in Golan v Holder.