Second Circuit Holds That Google Book-Scanning Project Is Fair Use


Last Friday, the Second Circuit ruled that Google's project to digitize and index millions of copyrighted books without permission from the copyright owners is a non-infringing fair use.

Through its book-scanning projects, Google makes and retains digital copies of books submitted to it by major libraries, and allows the libraries that submitted a book to download and retain a digital copy. Google also makes the scanned copies available online to allow the public to search the texts for keywords and see snippets of search results. As reported by Fish on November 15, 2013, a New York district court previously granted summary judgment to Google, finding that Google's copying of more than 20 million books is fair use under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 107.

Just last week, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed in a unanimous ruling. In what has been described as a "sweeping victory" for Google, the Second Circuit's decision offers a comprehensive analysis of the four fair use factors. In sum and substance, the finding of fair use is based on the court's recognition that Google's digitization is "transformative" because it makes available significant information about books, permits a searcher to identify books that contain a word or term of interest, allows readers to learn the frequency with which selected words were used in books throughout different historical periods, and enables researchers to find books of interest. The court found "no reason" why Google's overall profit motivation outweighed the highly transformative purpose of the project. In addition, because the public can see only snippets of books, Google's digitized copies are not a significant competing substitute for the original.

The decision can be read here.