A Case of Books


On Monday, April 18, the Supreme Court refused to hear a long-standing challenge on Google’s digital venture, the Google Books Library Project. This decision ended the feud between Google and contemporary authors who accused the project of large-scale copyright infringement.

Google began work on their digital library in 2004 with the creation of the database Google Books, which would grant users access to millions of distinct books scanned and digitized by the library project. The project began with the intent of scanning an estimated 130 million distinct book titles, which is believed to be the amount of all books in existence. By October 2015, Google had scanned over 25 million books from the collections of major research libraries, publishers, and authors.scanning

Searching for an existing book title will present the user with basic bibliographic information about the book, a few excerpts from the work, if copyright allows, and links to libraries or bookstores where the book may be found. In some cases, all or most of the book may be displayed.

It is in this display of passages that modern authors have taken offense. In 2005, the Authors Guild and several writers sued Google with the argument that the Google Books Library Project is an abuse of the “fair use” doctrine, which allows copyrighted material to be displayed under certain circumstances (criticism, commentary, etc.).

The guild’s president, Roxana Robinson, commented, “The denial of review is further proof that we’re witnessing a vast redistribution of wealth from the creative sector to the tech sector, not only with books, but across the spectrum of arts.”

These authors fear the project will leave them vulnerable to copyright infringement and deprive them of potential wealth. Google representatives, however, have expressed their belief that the Library Project benefits both readers and authors through their extensive database. Readers, they argue, are introduced to books they might never have found without a digital library.

The case has already been heard by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which came to a unanimous decision in favor of Google. By refusing to hear the case, the Supreme Court has upheld the decision that Google’s project is both lawful and beneficial.

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