Authors Guild vs. Google, Round 1

Google ended an 8 year battle with the Authors Guild on November 14, 2013 over the “fair use law” in its favor. Google has been digitizing books since 2004 without the expressed written consent of the writers for Google Books. The lawsuit began as a class action but was rejected by 2ND U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in June 2012. The initial settlement would have awarded the authors and publishers $125 million. This was rejected by the Circuit Judge Denny Chin in March of 2011. Chin’s opinion on the settlement agreed the digitization of books and the creation of a universal digital library would benefit many. The settlement would grant Google significant rights to exploit entire books, without permission of the copyright owners. The new verdict on 14th of November Chin found Google’s book-scanning project did not run afoul of fair use of the content under copyright law. Chin said that the Google service contributes to new audiences that offer new sources of income for authors and publishers.

The judgment by Chin invokes consequential ethical logic to justify the current ruling because the act provides more good then evil to all involved. Google believes their services will produce the most utilitarian good.  The crux of the case is what is considered “fair use”.  The U.S. Copyright Office says the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.  The Authors Guild plans to appeal the decision. They believe making copyrighted material searchable via digitization is an unfair use of copyrighted material.

The case sets a dangerous precedence for the rights of those who create original work. Google is built around one simple belief “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. Google has created a model where they profit off the content of others. They are not significantly changing the nature of the material. They are not using the material to make a point or express a point. They copy the book into their database and when individual search for any section of the book it will come up with short snippets for viewers. While the judgment does not allow Google to sell ad space on Google books; it’s not clear if it’s prohibited from extrapolate behavioral data collected from Google Books for other services. Google will have a rich set of data about consumer behavior based on the use of other copyrighted material. Do you think the authors will be appropriately compensated for the assistance in creating the data?

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