Google’s “Snippets” Prevail
After nearly a decade of fighting for its innovative online library, Google has prevailed in summary judgment against the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers. Fordham’s very own Judge Denny Chin granted the motion and accepted Google’s argument that its practice of scanning and availing books on a large online library constituted “fair use” under the Copyright Act. Google’s innovation to store books’ “snippets” was indeed a novel concept: facilitating book accessibility through a quick and easy online search using the Google search engine. With the click of a button, anyone from students, to teachers, and academics can access an array of useful book previews while conveniently plopped on their couch or kitchen table. With the accessibility of online snippets, readers may determine whether making a subsequent book purchase is ultimately worthwhile. This is an extremely convenient search tool for late night and last minute source hunting. With the Google option, readers are at ease from unexpected runs to the library or bookstore, while authors are still ensured “respectful consideration” for their rights. Because the books are not available in full version, and Google only allows visitors to access previews of the books, Chin noted that this constituted fair use of the online text. It is this characteristic of the database and Judge Chin’s description of a “transformative” concept that gives the books a new purpose and character. Together, these factors will likely increase book sales while ensuring copyright protection for participating authors.
Google has scanned approximately 20 million books since 2004, and the majority of the database contains nonfiction books including textbooks, instruction manuals, treatises, dictionaries, and biographies. The concept was initially aimed to facilitate increases in book sales and book discovery. Undoubtedly, the benefactors include more than just book publishers who will increase sales, but also students of all types and concentrations (especially those who crave last minute-I-need-this-supplement-
Inevitably, an appeal is likely, says executive director of the Authors Guild Paul Aiken. The concept is arguably exploitive, far exceeding “the bounds of the fair use defense.” Former New York Yankee pitcher Jim Bouton is writer of “Ball Four” and also among the plaintiffs. The case has endured a noteworthy procedural history. In March of 2011, Judge Chin rejected a settlement with authors and publishers for the amount of $125 million. He noted that such an outcome would give Google a “de facto monopoly” and bear implications in both copyright and antitrust. The next year, the authors were given permission to sue in a class action. After seeing the case as a trial judge, Judge Chin maintained jurisdiction once he joined the 2nd Circuit in 2010. Although there was a settlement with publishers, Google faces pending litigation from other groups, including photographers, authors, and graphic artists. The case undoubtedly sheds light on a new “fair use” concept in the digital book era, and may trigger substantial changes in the book publishing industry. Until then, snippet away.