Second Circuit Holds Google Library Project Is Fair Use

Since 2004, Google has scanned, converted to searchable text, and indexed over 20 million books for the Google Library Project.  In Authors Guild, Inc. v. Google, Inc., the Second Circuit held that such use is a fair use of the authors’ copyrights.

The Google Library Project allows searchers to read short synopses about the books and to search for terms of interest within the books.  Even though Google stores copies of the complete books, Google displays only “snippets,” or very limited portions of the books, containing a user’s search terms.  Authors sued Google asserting copyright infringement.  The district court granted Google’s motion for summary judgment, and the Second Circuit affirmed.

A fair use analysis involves four factors: (1) the purpose and character of the use, (2) the nature of the copyright work, (3) the amount of the copyrighted work used, and (4) the effect of the use on the copyrighted work’s potential market.  17 U.S.C. § 107.  The court analyzed all factors, but focused primarily on factors 1 and 4.

The first factor includes an analysis of whether the work is “transformative”: whether the “use is one that communicates something new and different from the original or expands its utility.” Google’s use of the copyrighted books to create a “full-text searchable database” has the “highly transformative purpose” of making “available significant information about those books,” which otherwise would be unavailable.

Considering the fourth factor, which is “of great importance in making a fair use assessment,” the court found that the snippets provided by Google to serve its transformative purpose are too limited and disjointed to create a significant substitute for the purchase of the author’s book.  Therefore, Google’s use does not affect the potential market for the copied books.

“The ultimate goal of copyright is to expand public knowledge and understanding, which copyright seeks to achieve by giving potential creators exclusive control over copying of their works.” In this case, the Second Circuit decided that Google’s copying serves the interest of expanding public knowledge without appropriating “any meaningful experience of the expressive content” of the books.

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