* Guest post by Amanda Zerangue (MLS, JD), UNT Libraries GLA
The Google Books Dispute Resurfaces
In a move that comes as a surprise to many keeping tabs on the Google Books dispute, Authors Guild recently petitioned the Supreme Court to hear its case against Google Books, arguing again that Google’s book digitization project constitutes copyright infringement. It is important to note that Authors Guild’s appeal does not mean the Supreme Court will hear the case– the Supreme Court’s practice of hearing and issuing rulings on cases of unsettled law make it unlikely that Authors Guild’s appeal will move forward.
A little background information may clarify why this seems like an exercise in futility on behalf of Authors Guild. It all started when Google, with the cooperation of many major libraries but without the permission of copyright holders, scanned and made available digital copies of millions of books, including some belonging to Authors Guild. The digitized books can be freely searched by the public for a specific word or term, and search results include “snippets” of text surrounding the search terms.
Authors Guild first brought suit against Google in 2005, arguing that Google’s actions infringed its copyrights. However, the District Court Judge agreed with Google’s argument that its actions were protected under “fair use,” which under 17 U.S.C. § 107, is not an infringement of copyright. Authors Guild appealed, and lost again in October 2015 when the Second Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously decided that the Google books project is legal and not an infringement of copyright laws. Relying on the HathiTrust decision, the Appellate Court held that the search function and providing “snippets” of text was transformative enough to fall under the protections of fair use.
While the issue seems both unambiguous and a settled area of law, we won’t find out until later in the spring whether the Supreme Court decides to hear the case and continue the copyright battle.