Google wins right to scan books and put them online for free

Following a long-running lawsuit, Google wins the right to keep scanning millions of books for free as the judge rules 'all society benefits'.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 15 Nov 2013

Way back in 2002, Google founder Larry Page decided it would be a good idea to scan every book in the world and put them online. The project went live in late 2004 and even attracted high profile partners such as the libraries of Oxford and Harvard universities.

At the time it was seen as a trailblazer for making the internet even more open. However, in 2005 firms accused Google of copyright infringement and started a series of legal challenges. Publishers complained that the search giant was profiting unfairly from copyrighted material and a long-running legal battle commenced.

The controversy rests on the fact that it allows people to read extracts without paying a penny to the authors.

However, on Thursday the judge supported Google’s argument that readers were highly unlikely to assemble enough snippets through internet searches to make buying the complete book unnecessary.

‘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 holder’ ruled Judge Denny Chin of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

‘All society benefits’ from the book scanning, he added, from researchers and students, to readers. It also helped authors and publishers by creating new audiences and sources of income.

Though Google does not sell the books and stopped running ads alongside them in 2011, it benefits commercially because people are drawn to the tech giant to search the books, Judge Chin wrote. But, he added, ‘Even assuming Google’s principal motivation is profit, the fact is that Google Books serves several important educational purposes.’

Despite the long-running controversy, Google has continued to carry on scanning books. It is estimated some 20 million titles have been scanned since 2004, the majority of which are out of print and without compensating copyright holders.

‘This has been a long road and we are absolutely delighted with today’s judgement,’ Google said in a statement. ‘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.’

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