After eight years of trial, U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin ruled Nov. 14 that Google did not infringe upon copyright laws when it began scanning texts into Google Books, its massive, searchable online library. The judge said Google acknowledges that it did not receive explicit permission from authors to publish certain texts since receiving acceptance from millions of authors would prove unfeasible. The company acted within the “fair use” exception to copyright infringement. The ruling has made it easier to legally obtain, share and use books for educational information and creative stimulation — a major victory toward achieving open, accessible education. Other courts in cases like this should accept the broad definition of fair use in order to continue this trend of accessible resources for the public good.
The fair use exception to copyright infringement has four requirements: First, it must produce creative stimulation while not using the text for personal profit. Second, the text must be published, not private. Third, the source may only use a fraction of the whole text, and, fourth, use of the text cannot harm the market for purchasing a novel. Google Books fulfills all of these requirements, as the judge rightly decided. Potential readers are able to quickly search, purchase or rent copies of books, so people can easily find specific books while also discovering recommendations for other texts. Or, as Chin wrote, “Google Books digitizes books and transforms expressive text into a comprehensive word index that helps readers, scholars, researchers and others find books.”
Opponents, notably the Author’s Guild, the organization that originally filed the suit against Google, claim the search engine fails under the fair use provision by providing too many direct quotes from a book, allowing Google Books users to read a text in its entirety through its online previews. However, Chin denied this, arguing, “Google Books does not supersede or supplant books because it is not a tool to be used to read books.” Users can see a only few pages of a novel per preview and a portion of each novel is never scanned into the system, proving that using Google Books to read an entire work is seriously impractical, if not impossible.
The innovative Google project is beneficial to authors. After searching a book, users can click on a link to purchase a copy from various online sellers. Since the engine allows easy access to find and purchase texts while also allowing readers to find new texts based on recommendations, authors actually have the opportunity to generate a greater profit. Additionally, many of the technical texts that may be useful to students are not products that were written with profitable intent.
The ruling also helps the University in its contribution to HathiTrust, an innovative project that connects the online libraries of the University and other major academic institutions. Because the University was an original contributor to the online database, this case establishes a precedent for the HathiTrust project. The decision also encourages the University to continue digitizing texts, furthering opportunities for public knowledge.
In making this ruling, Chin encourages public learning. By definition, fair use allows the use of copyrighted text if it mutually benefits every party, and in this case, it does. Allowing Google Books to continue use creates a legal precedent that will encourage public knowledge.