Google Books Scores Big Legal Victory, Authors Guild Plans Appeal

In what some are calling a landmark ruling, a federal appeals judge sided with Google in a legal battle over its ongoing book-digitization efforts. But the Authors Guild says it will fight on against the search giant.

The latest chapter of the Google Books saga—an epic undertaking followed by an equally epic lawsuit—closed this week in federal appeals court. But the story of the legal case isn’t over just yet.

Google won a major victory against the Authors Guild on Thursday in its ambitious and controversial push to digitize and store the full text of books and magazines on the company’s servers. While the trade group plans to appeal the ruling in the long-running case (the guild first sued in 2005), other groups hailed it as important to the future of information.

About the ruling: On Thursday, Judge Denny Chin of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York ruled that Google’s long-running Google Books project is classified as fair use due to its transformative nature, which the court ruled didn’t infringe the rights of the copyright holders. “Google Books does not supersede or supplant books because it is not a tool to be used to read books,” Chin wrote in his opinion. “Instead, it ‘adds value to the original’ and allows for ‘the creation of new information, new aesthetics, new insights and understandings.’” Chin also wrote that it was likely that Google Books “enhances the sales of books to the benefit of copyright holders.”

“One of its most important victories ever”: A number of media outlets, particularly Time and Wired, hailed the ruling as a significant victory for free speech. And several industry and activist groups—including the American Library Association (ALA), the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA)—considered it a win for fair use. “This ruling furthers the purpose of copyright by recognizing that Google’s book search is a transformative fair use that advances research and learning,” said ALA President Barbara Stripling. The library association said the decision could have a positive effect on other cases involving scholarly works.

Authors Guild plans appeal: In a statement following the decision, the writers association promised that it would appeal, calling the ruling “round one,” despite the eight-year battle. “We disagree with and are disappointed by the court’s decision today,” Paul Aiken, the guild’s executive director, said in a statement. “This case presents a fundamental challenge to copyright that merits review by a higher court. 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 fair-use defense.”

The case had been resolved in part before the Thursday ruling: Google agreed to a settlement with one of the other plaintiffs, the Association of American Publishers, about a year ago.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!