Authors lose court battle as US appeals court rules Google’s book scanning project is legal

In what could be massive setback for authors, a U.S. appeals court ruled on Friday that Google’s effort to scan millions of books for an online library does not violate copyright law. Google was taken to court by a group of authors who claimed that its book scanning project was illegal and deprived them of revenue.

Ruling in the case, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York rejected infringement claims from the Authors Guild and several individual writers, and found that the project provides a public service without violating intellectual property law.

The group of authors had sued Google in 2005, a year after Google’s book scanning project. Google counter argued that its book scanning project would actually increase book sales by making it easier for readers to find works, while introducing them to books they might not otherwise have seen.

Circuit Judge Denny Chin, who oversaw the case at the lower court level, dismissed the litigation in 2013, prompting the authors’ appeal. Judge Chin found Google’s scanning of tens of millions of books and posting “snippets” online constituted “fair use” under U.S. copyright law.

A unanimous three-judge appeals panel said the case “tests the boundaries of fair use,” but found Google’s practices were ultimately allowed under the law.

“Google’s division of the page into tiny snippets is designed to show the searcher just enough context surrounding the searched term to help her evaluate whether the book falls within the scope of her interest (without revealing so much as to threaten the author’s copyright interests),” Circuit Judge Pierre Leval wrote for the court.

The 2nd Circuit had previously rejected a similar lawsuit from the Authors Guild in June 2014 against a consortium of universities and research libraries that built a searchable online database of millions of scanned works.

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