Google has won a major victory in its ten-year legal fight with authors over its Google Library Project, which digitizes and indexes millions of copyrighted books for an online library without consent from the copyright owner. Since 2004, as part of the Google Library Project, Google has scanned, rendered machine-readable, and indexed more than 20 million books, which includes both public domain and copyrighted works, for its Google Books search engine. The search engine allows users to search words or terms that yields a list of all books in the database in which those words or terms appear, as well as the number of times the word or term appears in each book. The search also provides a brief description of each book which gives some basic additional information, such as a list of the words and terms that appear with most frequency in the book. Users are also allowed a limited viewing of the text of the book to see “snippets” of text containing the searched-for terms. The search sometimes provides links to buy the book online and identifies libraries where the book can be located.

The Plaintiffs, Author’s Guild and several individual authors, allege that Google’s activities constitute infringement of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted works and sought injunctive relief, declaratory relief and damages. Google defended on grounds of fair use under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §107 and the district court agreed and granted summary judgment in favor of Google.

On appeal, in an unanimous decision, the Second Circuit upheld the district court’s grant of summary judgment holding that Google’s book-scanning project qualifies as fair use and rejected claims from the that the project is an infringement. Although the Court said the case “tests the boundaries of fair use”, it held that “Google’s making of a complete digital copy of Plaintiffs’ works for the purpose of providing the public with its search and snippet view functions (at least as snippet view is presently designed) is a fair use and does not infringe Plaintiffs’ copyrights in their books.” Specifically, the Court concluded that “Google’s making of a digital copy to provide a search function is a transformative use, which augments public knowledge by making available information about Plaintiffs’ books without providing the public with a substantial substitute for matter protected by the Plaintiffs’ copyright interests in the original works or derivatives of them. The same is true, at least under present conditions, of Google’s provision of the snippet function.” Although representatives for Plaintiffs have said they will try to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, it remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will take up the case.

A link to the Second Circuit decision can be found here.