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Google book scanning counts as ‘fair use’ says appeals court

It’s been some time since Google’s book-scanning project was last in the news, but the tech giant has just won a crucial court victory enabling the endeavor to continue. The decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York brings to an end a 10-year lawsuit filed by the Authors Guild, and confirms the scanning does not violate copyright law.

“We see no reason in this case why Google’s overall profit motivation should prevail as a reason for denying fair use over its highly convincing transformative purpose, together with the absence of significant substitutive competition, as reasons for granting fair use,” wrote Justice Pierre Leval, as Fortune reports. Over 20 million books have been scanned by Google as it looks to digitize the world’s literature and make it available online.

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“Today’s decision underlines what people who use the service tell us: Google Books gives them a useful and easy way to find books they want to read and buy, while at the same time benefiting copyright holders. We’re pleased the court has confirmed that the project is fair use, acting like a card catalog for the digital age,” a Google spokesperson said in a press statement.

Google Books gives users an online portal through which they can search scanned books and read excerpts free of charge. Publishers claimed this infringed on copyright protection and the authors’ ability to make money from their work, a position that the U.S. courts have now refuted. If the decision had gone the other way, Google would’ve been facing the prospect of paying out billions of dollars in damages.

Leval said that the snippets shown by Google Books were large enough to give searchers a sense of the context of a particular passage while still being small enough to avoid copyright infringement. The Authors Guild now plans to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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