Google wins in a battle for digitisation

Objavljeno 21.11.2013.

On 14 November 2013 news broke around the world on the outcome of a lawsuit which will profoundly influence the entire world of digitisation – federal district court judge Denny Chin of the Southern district of New York judged in favour of Google. He dismissed the lawsuit which, on behalf of American authors and publishers, the American Authors Guild filed against Google for copyright infringement in its Google Books project. The project was supposed to make available for public use 32 million digitised books from the leading world libraries over the period of ten years, and according to the latest report (April 2013) more than 30 million books have already been digitised as part of it.

In 2004 Google started scanning books from the five largest world libraries (libraries at Harvard, Michigan, Stanford and Oxford universities, and the New York Public Library) and including them into its searchable online database, as a result of which the Authors Guild filed the lawsuit on the grounds of massive copyright infringement as soon as the very next year.

From that time on this court case went through several stormy episodes during which there were all sorts of attempts to reach a settlement between Google, authors and publishers. Thus all three parties – with authors and publishers acting in unison – reached a settlement in 2008 according to which Google consented to pay 125 million dollars into a fund which would be used to reimburse the authors whose works would be included in Google’s online library. This settlement also laid down details on the extent to which Google could make searchable the books it digitised. However, after the court rejected the settlement in 2011 on account of the fact that its approval would practically grant Google monopoly over the digitisation of books, publishers negotiated a separate settlement with Google, the financial details of which have not been made public so far.

Google, which throughout this entire time insisted that its project does not involve copyright infringement since it enables the so-called ‘fair use’ by making accessible only parts of copyrighted texts, filed a motion over a year ago in which it defended the legitimacy of its Google Books project by further emphasizing the only partial accessibility of books and the necessity for all those who wish to read them in their entirety to purchase them in stores or borrow them from libraries.

This final dismissal of the Authors Guild’s lawsuit is an indisputable victory for Google. In its ruling judge Chin agreed with Google’s claim that Google Books cannot be used for pirating books and stressed ‘significant public benefits’ resulting from it. He further stated that this project could be of benefit to both authors and publishers by leading to the increase in the reading public and thus to the opening of new sources of income.

However, this victory represents much more. According to eminent specialists from the American research libraries and library associations, such an outcome will result in making an even greater number of resources available to scientists and researchers and in this way contribute to the advancement of learning and development of science. Chin singled out libraries as a group which may reap particular benefits of the Google Books project ‘as it helps librarians identify and find research sources, makes the process of interlibrary lending more efficient, and it facilitates finding and checking citations.’ Apart from the fact that owing to this ruling all sorts of institutions will digitise their materials even more readily and make them accessible, libraries will also be able to use even more tools which will enable them to make their resources and holdings accessible online.

A similar decision was reached in a lawsuit brought by the Authors Guild against the HathiTrust Digital Library. Both these rulings are undoubtedly a great victory for all those who strive to further reinforce the principles of fair use of all kinds of copyrighted works and accessibility of information, of which libraries are particularly fervent advocates.