Mimesis Law
18 April 2021

SCOTUS Affirms That Google Books Falls Under Fair Use

Apr. 19, 2016(Mimesis Law) —  On Monday, the Supreme Court of the United States dismissed a petition for appeal from the Authors Guild who claimed that Google’s digital library of books, Google Books, constituted copyright infringement. This ended a 12 year legal battle, ultimately confirming a lower court’s decision that the portions of text made available by Google Books fall under the “fair use” provision of the US Copyright Act.

The fair use doctrine in the US Copyright Act is a defense to copyright infringement on the basis thay certain elements are met. While decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, judges balance the following four factors when deciding: the purpose of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and the effect of the use upon the potential market. A catalogue of judicial decisions has been compiled in order to enable one to track which uses have been considered to be ‘fair’ or ‘unfair’.

Google started the Google Books and Library Project over a decade ago consolidates a huge catalogue of copyright-protected texts. It enables users to search through the works and to view snippets of text.

Supporters of the projects see the dismissal of the Authors Guild petition as a begin win for libraries and the general public. Google released a statement praising the decision:

“We are grateful that the court has agreed to uphold the decision of the Second Circuit (appeals court) which concluded that Google Books is transformative and consistent with copyright law.

The product acts like a card catalogue for the digital age by giving people a new way to find and buy books while at the same time advancing the interests of authors.”

The Authors Guild expressed their disappointment in the outcome on Monday. The guild had originally urged the Supreme Court to review the case as in their view the lower court’s decision amounted to an “unprecedented judicial expansion of the fair use doctrine” and that the snippets of text on view are an illegal substitute for copyrighted work. The executive director, Mary Rasenberger, commented:

“Blinded by the public benefit arguments, the Second Circuit ruling tells us that Google, not authors, deserves to profit from the digitization of their books”.

While there may be some truth to this statement, it is however untrue that Google derives any direct profit from the endeavor. The company does not display advertising to users of Google Books and it does not receive payment if a searcher uses Google’s link to buy a copy of a book.

Currently, there are over 20 million books available on Google Books, many of which were scanned in partnership with research libraries at Stanford, Columbia, the University of California, and the New York Public Library.

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