September 20, 2005 | By Fred von Lohmann

Authors Guild Sues Google

As many have reported, the Authors Guild has filed a class-action copyright infringement lawsuit [PDF] against Google in the Southern District of New York. The dispute, as we've mentioned before, involves Google Print.

I believe Google has a strong fair use defense here. Because a fair use defense turns on a case-by-case analysis of the facts, it is important to understand exactly what Google intends to do. In the words of Jonathan Band:

Under the Print Library Project, Google plans to scan into its search database materials from the libraries of Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford Universities, the University of Michigan, and the New York Public Library. In response to search queries, users will be able to browse the full text of public domain materials, but only a few sentences of text around the search term in books still covered by copyright. This is a critical fact that bears repeating: for books still under copyright users will be able to see only a few sentences on either side of the search term. Users will not see a few pages, as under the Publisher Program, nor the full text, as for public domain works. Indeed, a full page of the book is never seen for an in-copyright book scanned as part of the Library Project unless a publisher decides to transfer their book into their Publisher Program account, in which case it would be under the agreement between Google and the copyright holder.

Turning now to the traditional four fair use factors:

Nature of the Use: Favors Google. Although Google's use is commercial, it is highly transformative. Google is effectively scanning the books and turning them into the world's most advanced card catalog. That makes Google a whole lot more like Arriba Soft than MP3.com.

Nature of the Works: Favors Neither Side. The books will be a mix of creative and factual, comprised of published works. The works cited in the complaint include "The Fiery Trial: A Life of Lincoln" (largely factual history) and "Just Think" (described elsewhere as: "pictures, poems, words, and sayings for the reader to ponder").

Amount and Substantiality of the Portion Used: Favors Google. Google appears to be copying only as much as necessary (if you are enabling full-text searching, you need the full text), and only tiny snippets are made publicly accessible. Once again, Google looks a lot more like Arriba Soft than MP3.com.

Effect of the Use on the Market: Favors Google. It is easy to see how Google Print can stimulate demand for books that otherwise would lay undiscovered in library stacks. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine how it could hurt the market for the books -- getting a couple sentences surrounding a search term is unlikely to serve as a replacement for the book. Copyright owners may argue that they would prefer Google and other search engines pay them for the privilege of creating a search mechanism for their books. In other words, you've hurt my "licensing market" because I could have charged you. Let's hope the court recognizes that for the circular reasoning it is.

For a full analysis of the fair use issues here, read Jonathan Band's excellent paper, The Google Print Library Project: A Copyright Analysis [PDF].


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