US appeals court backs Google Books project

Washington, October 17

Google’s colossal project to digitise the world’s books does not violate copyright law, a US appeals court ruled on Friday, affirming a 2013 decision seen as a landmark for the digital era.

Google welcomed the decision allowing its vast digitisation programme to move forward, but plaintiffs led by Authors Guild vowed to take the case to US Supreme Court.

The New York Second Circuit Court of Appeals backed a lower court’s ruling that Google was

exercising ‘fair use’ in scanning books and making them available for online users to search and

read excerpts.

The appeals panel rejected the arguments of the Authors Guild, several prominent writers and leading publishers that the Google Books programme and its Library Project would eat into their earnings potential by allowing readers free access to the books.

Google allows people to search for words or names in books, but only shows snippets of copyrighted works, not entire texts.

Judge Pierre Leval wrote in his opinion that the long-standing interpretation of copyright law has for 300 years been that authors do not have ‘absolute control’ over their works, and that there are important exemptions for ‘fair use’, including news reporting, historical analysis, parody and other ‘transformative’ purposes.

The court said that the snippets made available by Google were not a viable substitute for the works and that it was immaterial if Google made a profit from its search business using the books.

“The purpose of the copying is highly transformative, the public display of text is limited, and the revelations do not provide a significant market substitute for the protected aspects of the originals,” the court said. “Google’s commercial nature and profit motivation do not justify denial of fair use.”

Google, which has scanned of millions of books for its project, welcomed the decision.