Google's Card Catalog Should Be Left Open
San Francisco, CA - Yesterday, the Authors Guild filed a class-action copyright infringement suit against Google over its Google Print library project. Working with major university libraries, Google Print aims to make thousands of books searchable via the Web, allowing people to search for key words or phrases in books. The public may browse the full text of public domain materials in the process of such a search, but only a few sentences of text around the search term in books still covered by copyright.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) applauds Google's effort to create the digital equivalent of a library card catalog, and believes the company has a strong case.
"Just as libraries don't need to pay publishers when they create a card catalog, neither should Google or other search engines be required to when they create an improved digital equivalent," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Fred von Lohmann.
In defending the lawsuit, Google is relying on the copyright principle of fair use, which allows the public to copy works without having to ask permission or pay licensing fees to copyright holders. EFF believes Google is likely to prevail on its defense. One key point in Google's favor is that Google Print is a transformative use of these books -- the company is creating a virtual card catalog to assist people in finding relevant books, rather than creating replacements for the books themselves.
In addition, it is almost certain that Google Print will boost, rather than hurt, the market for the copyrighted books. "It's easy to see how Google Print can stimulate demand for books that otherwise would lay undiscovered in library stacks," said von Lohmann. "It's hard to see how it could hurt publishers or authors."
For additional legal analysis, EFF recommends the white paper, "The Google Print Library Project: A Copyright Analysis," recently published by noted DC copyright attorney Jonathan Band of Policy Bandwidth.
Fred von Lohmann
Senior Intellectual Property Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation