Google’s book scanning can continue without authors’ permission

June 10th, 2014 | by

On Tuesday, a federal appeals court upheld Google’s right, along with universities, to scan library books without the authors’ permission.

The case, which was brought up by the Authors Guild and other writers’ groups, was concerned with the universities breaching federal copyright law by scanning library books. The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the universities, in conjunction with Google, were protected by the “fair use” doctrine.

The guild accused 13 universities of copyright infringement for including 10 million works in what is called the HathiTrust Digital Library (HDL) without permission. More than 73 percent of the volumes that were included were copyrighted. The universities named in the case include the University of California, Cornell University, Indiana University, and the University of Michigan.

Currently, only those with “certified print disabilities” like the blind are able to access the scanned works in their complete form. Those without any disabilities are only allowed to search keywords in the books unless they have permission from the author.

The appeals court said in their ruling:

It is not disputed that, in order to perform a full‐text search of books, the Libraries must first create digital copies of the entire books. Importantly, as we have seen, the HDL does not allow users to view any portion of the books they are searching. Consequently, in providing this service, the HDL does not add into circulation any new, human‐readable copies of any books. Instead, the HDL simply permits users to ‘word search’—that is, to locate where specific words or phrases appear in the digitized books. Applying the relevant factors, we conclude that this use is a fair use.

“Fair use” is a defense used in copyright infringement cases and can be argued for reasons like teaching, research, reporting, commentary, parody, and criticism.

Since the volumes are only made available in their entirety to the disabled, the court stated that it was “an example of fair use.”

Source: Ars Technica