Google means a lot of things to a lot of people. Apart from providing all help wanted at the click of a button, it has also had its share of controversies, the major one being the Google Books case. In what is termed as a landmark judgment, a U.S. Federal Circuit Court ruled in Authors Guild Inc. et al vs Google Inc.,[i] that Google Books is legal, thereby holding in favour of the for-profit search giant.
A three-judge panel on the Second Circuit ruled decisively for Google against the Authors Guild, a professional group of published writers, which had alleged Google’s scanning of library books and displaying of free “snippets” online violated its members’ copyright.
The Google Books case had seemed to drag on forever; the Authors Guild first filed suit 10 years ago. For starters, the Google Books is a feature through which ‘digital copies’ of more than 20 million books are provided to people, by way of making the text of the book available for online searching through “snippets”.[ii] This initiative was started back in 2004, under two digital books programs known as “Partner Program” (previously named as “Google Print”), which comprised of hosting and displaying of the material provided by book publishers or other rights holders, and the second one known as “Library Project”, which involved the digital scanning of books from the collections of the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, and many University libraries. For this, Google announced agreements with many chief research libraries in order to digitally copy books in their collections under the Google Books through scanning the same. Many of these books were copyrighted and Google did not obtain permission/license from the copyright holders/authors of those books for usage of their copyrighted works. Consequently, the Authors Guild brought a copyright infringement suit against Google in 2005, to which Google responded with the defence of Doctrine of Fair Use under § 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C.
After much deliberation, the Court, rejected the copyright infringement claim against Google, further adding that, Google’s practice of scanning books into digital format and showcasing the snippets of those scans in the search results amounted to qualify under the doctrine of fair use. Google won victoriously, after a 10 year long litigation, spending about millions of dollars. This ruling has been given after two years, when previously a settlement of $125 million, between Google, Author’s Guild and the Association of American Publishers was rejected.
Search giants like Google have become an imperative part of our lives, with everyone relying completely on Google to search from anything to everything. The Google Books case stands as a testament to the fact that the canon of search engine copyright laws has extended in a positive direction. The Court has also categorically rejected the mistrusting authors’ claim regarding the security of books in digitized format. Moreover, Google Books has become a contributory research instrument that is efficiently helping students, teachers, librarians, and others to ascertain and trace books, thereby preserving and bringing to light those books that are stacked in dusted racks of libraries. Furthermore, it enables access to books for the print-disabled, isolated or underserved people. It creates new viewers and generates new sources of income for authors and publishers thereby benefitting all of humanity and society.
[i] U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 05-08136.
[ii] Ibid, at page 1.