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Authors lose out in Google Books ruling

After a lengthy legal battle lasting the better part of a decade, the lawsuit against Google’s massive book-scanning project has been dismissed by a New York court. U.S. circuit judge Denny Chin ruled against a complaint brought by the Authors Guild (and several individual authors), arguing that Google’s scanning and indexing of books from several U.S. library collections qualifies as fair use.

Google launched its digital books program in 2004 and, to date, has scanned more than 20 million titles, many of which remain in copyright. Authors sought hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, with Google suggesting it could owe “more than $3 [billion] if the class action succeeded.”

However, Chin ruled on Thursday that Google’s book project provides significant public benefits and qualifies as fair use under U.S. copyright law. The decision is an important victory for Google, the implications of which could stretch beyond the book world. From Reuters:

“This is a big win for Google, and it blesses other search results that Google displays, such as news or images,” said James Grimmelmann, a University of Maryland intellectual property law professor who has followed the case.

“It is also a good ruling for libraries and researchers, because the opinion recognizes the public benefit of making books available,” he added.

The Authors Guild has already expressed its disappointment with the decision and says it plans to appeal. Executive director Paul Aiken told Reuters, “Google made unauthorized digital editions of nearly all of the world’s valuable copyright-protected literature and profits from displaying those works…. Such mass digitization and exploitation far exceeds the bounds of the fair use defense.”

Meanwhile, Google provided the following statement to media:

This has been a long road and we are absolutely delighted with today’s judgment. As we have long said, Google Books is in compliance with copyright law and acts like a card catalog for the digital age.