After eight years of litigation, we finally have an answer to the central question in the Google Books case, and it’s a good one: Google’s scanning, indexing, and display of snippets from copyrighted books are fair uses. In an opinion that is long on praise for the project and short on doubt, the judge in the case wrote that Google’s use of the books is “highly transformative” and not infringing. The long-awaited ruling is a big win for Google, libraries, and access to information more broadly.
Background will be easy to find online today, but briefly: The Google Library Project is an ambitious effort to treat library stacks like Google treats the web: crawl their books, index the pages, and make it all fully searchable. Google partnered with various academic libraries around the world and just started scanning. The libraries get digital copies of books in their collections to use for archives and increasing accessibility, and Google and the world get a huge new text corpus for search. In 2005, The Authors Guild and others filed a class-action lawsuit, claiming copyright infringement in the scans, the library copies, and the search engine’s return of snippets of text in response to queries.
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