A U.S. judge has thrown out a long-standing copyright infringement case brought against Google by the Authors Guild, saying the company’s book-scanning project provides significant benefits to the public.
Judge Denny Chin, formerly of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, dismissed the author advocacy group’s 8-year-old copyright lawsuit against Google on Thursday. Google’s Books project is protected by U.S. fair use doctrine, Chin ruled.
The benefits of the Google Books project “are many,” Chin wrote in his ruling. “Google Books provides a new and efficient way for readers and researchers to find books. It makes tens of millions of books searchable by words and phrases.”
Google Books has become “an essential research tool, as it helps librarians identify and find research sources, it makes the process of interlibrary lending more efficient, and it facilitates finding and checking citations,” Chin added.
The Google scanning program also expands access to books, Chin wrote. “Traditionally underserved populations will benefit as they gain knowledge of and access to far more books,” he wrote.
“Google Books provides print-disabled individuals with the potential to search for books and read them in a format that is compatible with text enlargement software, text-to-speech screen access software, and Braille devices.”
Chin, in 2012, had allowed the Authors Guild class-action lawsuit to move forward against Google, but a three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overruled him earlier this year. The appeals court directed Chin to reconsider the merits of Google’s fair-use defense.
Google didn’t ask authors’ permission before beginning to scan millions of books, but the company has taken steps to ensure that users of its Books service can only see snippets of books scanned without permission, Chin wrote in his Wednesday ruling. Some publishers and authors have given Google permission to make their complete books available.
Google applauded Chin’s decision. “This has been a long road, and we are absolutely delighted with today’s judgement,” the company said in a 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 said it is “disappointed” in Chin’s decision and plans to appeal it.
“This case presents a fundamental challenge to copyright that merits review by a higher court,” Paul Aiken, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “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 the fair use defense.”
Updated at 10:20 a.m. PT with reaction from The Authors Guild.