Google Books Wins after Ten Years in a Fair Use Case Brought by the Authors Guild

LBN’s Emily Collins reports that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit has handed down an opinion that is a victory for Google Books. Ending a lawsuit by the Authors Guild that has gone on for ten years, the appellate court held that Google’s scanning of library books and displaying free snippets online did not violate copyright law.


The Authors Guild claimed that Google’s actions violated the law. However, the three-judge appellate panel found that Google’s actions were legal under the “fair use” provision of the copyright law. Google did the scanning and publishing without seeking or receiving permission from the owners of the copyrights.

The opinion of the appellate court was written by Judge Pierre N Leval, an expert on copyright law and the author of Harvard Law Review article, “Toward a Fair Use Standard.” The fair use exception to the copyright law permits the use of copyrighted material without permission so long as the use falls within the fair use limits. The statute sets out for factors for courts to consider in deciding whether something falls within the fair use exception: (1) the purpose and character of the use; (2) the nature of the work being used; (3) the amount and substance of work being used; and (4) the effect of the use upon the real or potential market for the work. In essence, the issue is whether the use of the work is transformative, a standard that Judge Leval originated.

This is the second time that Google has won in the courts. The Authors Guild plans an appeal to the Supreme Court. David Post, writing in The Volokh Conspiracy, is skeptical that the Supreme Court would grant certiorari.

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