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Google wins Books lawsuit brought by US authors

15 Nov 2013
storybooks

Google has emerged victorious in its eight-year battle for its Books service, with a US judge ruling that Google's use of copyrighted material was allowed under fair use.

The case, brought against Google by The Authors Guild, has been running since 2005 and has taken many twists and turns along the way. This latest part began in 2012 following a judge's ruling that The Guild could file a class action lawsuit against the search giant.

Google allows users to search and view "snippets" of more than 20 million books online without paying. The Guild had initially sued Google for $750 for each book, valuing the case at $3bn. However, US circuit judge Denny Chin concluded that Google's work provides "significant public benefits".

"It advances the progress of the arts and sciences, while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals, and without adversely impacting the rights of copyright holders," he said, adding that it had become a valuable tool for researchers, teachers and students.

The Authors Guild said it would appeal the decision: "We disagree with and are disappointed by the court's decision today," the Guild's director Paul Aitken said.

"This case presents a fundamental challenge to copyright that merits review by a higher court. Google made unauthorised digital editions of nearly all of the world's valuable copyright-protected literature and profits from displaying those works. In our view, such mass digitisation and exploitation far exceeds the bounds of fair use defence."

Google was, unsurprisingly, happy with the outcome. "This has been a long road and we are absolutely delighted with today's judgment," the firm said in a statement seen by Reuters. "As we have long said, Google Books is in compliance with copyright law and acts like a card catalog for the digital age, giving users the ability to find books to buy or borrow."

The outcome of this case further backs up the fair use defence for Google, which has won cases in the past against firms, such as adult entertainment publisher Perfect 10 in 2007.

Chin's statement in this year's case that Google Books' service is "transformative" by giving additional value and a new purpose for existing work, could quite possibly be applied in future cases.

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Michael Passingham
About

Michael Passingham joined V3 as a reporter in June 2013. Prior to working at V3, Michael spent time at computing magazine PC Pro. Michael covers IT skills, social media, tech startups and also produces V3's video content.

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