With Supreme Court Passing, Google Books Legal Battle Over, for Now

The Authors Guild's long-running copyright battle against the search giant over its Google Books program is over after the Supreme Court chose not to hear a final appeal in the decade-long case. The guild expressed concern the ruling chose short-term fair-use benefits over long-term copyright protections.

The long-running Google Books controversy is over, thanks to the Supreme Court.

The high court on Monday announced that it had refused to hear a case regarding the Google Library project, which scans literature and makes it searchable. The project has generally been found to pass the muster of fair-use arguments, though the Authors Guild has been a notable critic of the unauthorized scans and first sued the company for copyright infringement more than a decade ago.

The Supreme Court’s rejection of the case, made without comment, leaves in place an appeals court ruling from last October that favored the search giant. This appears to be the end of the road for the Authors Guild.

“Today authors suffered a colossal loss,” the group’s president, Roxana Robinson, said in a news release. “We filed the class-action lawsuit against Google in September 2005 because, as we stated then, ‘Google’s taking was a plain and brazen violation of copyright law.’ We believed then and we believe now that authors should be compensated when their work is copied for commercial purposes.”

Authors Guild Executive Director Mary Rasenberger added that “the price of this short-term public benefit may well be the future vitality of American culture.”

The group isn’t alone in its disappointment. The Copyright Alliance, a trade group focused on creators’ rights, argued that the legal reasoning in the case is, at best, questionable, as it relied on a test given to courts in Campbell v Acuff-Rose Music Inc., the landmark copyright decision involving the rap group 2 Live Crew that found a parody could be treated as fair use.

Keith Kupferschmid, the Copyright Alliance’s CEO, said that because no new works are being created, Google’s approach shouldn’t be legal.

“In cases like Google Books there is no new expressive work that results from the use. Rather, the works are being used to create a service that uses information about the works that is culled from the copying of them,” Kupferschmid wrote in a blog post on Monday. “Since there is no new expressive work produced as a result of the copying, the transformative use test is irrelevant. Unfortunately, many courts, including those that heard the Google Books case, have begun relying on the transformative use test as though it can serve as the sole basis for a fair use finding.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation disagreed with this line of thinking, arguing courts have encouraged the right level of flexibility in fair use.

“The Supreme Court made the right call,” EFF Legal Director Corynne McSherry wrote. “Its decision will finally end this litigation, and leave intact a fair use doctrine that is robust and flexible enough to counterbalance the copyright creep that would stifle new innovation and creativity.”

This is the second major victory for Google in the long-running case. In 2012, the company reached a settlement with the Association of American Publishers, which had joined the Authors Guild in the 2005 suit.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

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

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