A federal court has found that scanning books for search — which Google was doing for a university project called the Hathi Trust — is clearly covered by the “fair use” principle in copyright law, which could help Google in its own lawsuit with the Authors Guild.
. . . .
The seven-year fight between authors and publishers over Google’s attempt to scan and digitize millions of books as part of its Google Library Project is almost certainly one of the longest-running copyright battles of the web era. The company recently agreed to settle a lawsuit launched by the Association of American Publishers, but a similar lawsuit with the Authors Guild is still under way — and now Google has just been given what looks like some powerful ammunition from a federal court in a related case, involving a group of universities known as the Hathi Trust, who were helping the search giant with its scanning program for research purposes.
There are elements of the Hathi Trust decision that make it different from the issues raised by the Google case, since it involves universities rather than a corporate entity, but the bottom line is that a federal court has decided scanning of books for search purposes is not an infringement of copyright — or rather that this activity is covered under the principle of “fair use,” and therefore should be allowed to continue.
. . . .
One sign of how clearly the court believes this is that Judge Harold Baer’s decision was a summary judgement, meaning he didn’t think there was any point in even going to trial to argue the details of the case. As a post at the Copyright Librarian points out, “winning on summary judgment means the court agrees your arguments are a slam-dunk.” In his decision (which is embedded in full below), the judge says:
“Although I recognize that the facts here may on some levels be without precedent, I am convinced that they fall safely within the protection of fair use… I cannot imagine a definition of fair use that would not encompass the transformative uses made by Defendants’ MDP and would require that I terminate this invaluable contribution to the progress of science and cultivation of the arts.”
The parts of the Hathi Trust case that make it distinct from Google’s battle with the Authors Guild have to do with the purposes for which the books were being scanned. For example, Judge Baer found that protecting old works from physical deterioration by scanning them was a “transformative use” (one of the four factors the courts take into account when deciding whether something should qualify as fair use), and that making digital books available for the use of visually impaired and other handicapped users was also an important element of the program.
Link to the rest at GigaOm and thanks to Phil for the tip.
Here is the entire Opinion and Order: