Monday, June 11, 2012

Google's Fair Use Defense to Authors Copyright Infringement

Last month, Google got the vote for “most popular technology brand,” beating out Facebook, Twitter, and Apple. Google has grown to include its own specialized search tool for Maps, News, Shopping, Videos, etc.

A few years back, Google started Google Books and made an agreement with several research libraries to scan books for its Google Books Library Project. It has scanned 12 million books over the course of the project.

The website for Google Books describes that you can view a few “snippets” or sentences of copyrighted books and you can fully view a book that is out of copyright. The website states:

“The Library Project’s aim is simple: make it easier for people to find relevant books – specifically, books they wouldn’t find any other way such as those that are out of print …”

Members of the Authors Guild are alleging that Google scanned their copyrighted books without authorization. Last week, a federal judge gave the ok for the members of the Authors Guild to sue jointly (a class-action lawsuit). So now thousands of authors can sue Google since the class includes: “all U.S. authors and their heirs with a copyright interest in books scanned by Google as part of its Library Project.”

Google’s plans to create the world’s largest digital book library could come to a halt depending on whether a court agrees with the authors that Google’s e-books infringed their copyright protection. But wait a minute. Google may have a claim to “fair use” of these works under copyright law, which Google will reportedly use as its primary defense in this case.

The line between fair use and infringement can get blurry. The doctrine of fair use, section 107 of copyright law, says that certain purposes can qualify as “fair” such as scholarship, research, etc. Section 107 also says a court should consider:

1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes

2. The nature of the copyrighted work

3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole

4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.

The outcome of this case will undoubtedly have effects on the future of ebooks and digitization. It’ll be up to a judge whether Google’s actions qualify as fair use, but what’s your opinion based on what you know about the case and considering the fair use factors?