Information Update - Spring 2014

Update on Google Books Legislation: A Win for Libraries and Researchers

Who has not logged onto the Amazon website, looked for a book title, then before hitting the “place it in my cart” option, selected the “look inside” link to scan a few pages or to look at the index or table of contents before parting with hard earned money? This feature is so much a part of our bookbuying habits that if it is not available, we are sometime reticent to purchase a book, either electronically or in print. This feature, in place on Amazon since 2003, was not protested by authors; in fact they often viewed it as an excellent marketing tool which would only increase the sales of their books.
 
Enter Google, which attempted to tap into this same technology as part of their ambitious Google Books project begun in 2005. When it was first introduced, the company partnered with five large research libraries (Harvard and Stanford among them) in a project which involved scanning their enormous collections in return for a digital copy of each work scanned. That project, still underway, includes all of the work that is non-copyrighted in each library, as well as a small portion of copyrighted work. More libraries have joined the consortium and the total number of unique digital titles promises to top 25 million books before the end of 2014.
 
Publishers and authors were not as enthused with the Google Book project as they were with the “look inside” feature on Amazon. According to Paul Aiken, executive director of the Author’s Guild, which represents writers, Google is complicit in copyright infringement. The Guild filed a lawsuit stating that “Google created unauthorized digital versions of most of the world’s copyright-protected books.” Their intent was to seek $750 for each copyrighted book made digital, and considering that Google has scanned over 20 million books so far, the sum would be astronomical.
 
On November 14, 2013, a New York federal judge dismissed the case brought by the Author’s Guild, which was first filed in Manhattan in 2005. The decision put to an end the claim of copyright infringement and allows Google to move forward in its digitization project, enlisting more libraries and providing more access to books both in and outside of copyright. The long and drawn out litigation may have had a positive effect on the outcome. Since the lawsuit was first filed in 2005, attitudes towards electronic books have improved and the technology involved in digitalization and indexing has increased scholarly access to works that were formerly housed in inaccessible archives.
 
Although the Author’s Guild plans to appeal the decision, Judge Denny Chin, who presided over the case for the past eight years and ultimately chose to dismiss the charges wrote that “Google’s use of copyrighted works is highly transformative. Words in books are being used in a way they have not been used before.”
 
It remains to be seen if the appeal will be effective. Reference librarians are delighted that we can continue to help our patrons pursue the research that has been previously unavailable to them prior to the Google Book project.
Betsey Moylan