Thanks to a recent court ruling, the Internet is one step closer to a reading rainbow.
After nearly a decade, Google Books finally got the decision theyd been waiting for: The platform is fully legal. On the federal circuit, as the Atlantics Robinson Meyer writes, judges handed down a 3-0 decision in favor of the tech titan, effectively serving orders to the Authors Guild to back off. The collective of published writers sued 10 years ago, alleging that Googlespreview pages (the digital equivalent of skimming tabloid magazines in line at the grocery store) violated the copyright of its members. This time, however, their words failed them.
The Google Books decision is a victory for authorsas the search engine will continue offering book previews that dont devalue the publishing craft but enrich it with a much-needed online resource. And even further, it promotes the cultivation of a knowledge sharing economy on the Internet, where ideas and information can continue thriving and finding new destinations that were previously unthinkable.
As University of Maryland law professor James Grimmelmann told the Atlantic, this instance constitutes as fair useand its transformative enough (or, uses source material in a new or unexpected manner) to pass legal muster. This idea of transformative use as the keystone to a lot of fair-use cases becomes dominant in U.S. courts, he said, adding, What happens then over the next two decades is that the idea of transformative fair use itself gets extended to all kinds of new situations, including search engines.
Without tools such as Google Books, it could be all the harder to drive book sales, capture new audiences, and preserve the availability of information that makes the First Amendment such a cherished clause.
In the decisive ruling, Judge Pierre Leval summarizes that, in the case of Google Books services, the public display of text is limited, and whats displayed doesnt provide a significant market substitute for the protected aspects of the originals. Translation: Hold on to your wig, J.K. Rowlings of the world, no ones going to stop buying your work because a page or two is indexed by a search engine.
If anything, organizations like the Authors Guild should be grateful that big tech companies have taken such an interest in whats often bemoaned as a dying industry, revitalizing it with the tools to reinforce the relevance of printed works. Without tools such as Google Books, it could be all the harder to drive book sales and capture new audiences.
Now that theyve finally lost the decade-long lawsuit against Google, maybe the folks at the Authors Guild should ship over a Nexus tablet with a thank you e-card. If Hallmark and American Greetings can digitize their creations, libraries and authors everywhere should be grateful that theyre not digging deep into their own pockets just to offer something as simple as a free preview.
Derrick Cliftonis the deputy opinion editor for the Daily Dot and a New York-based journalist and speaker, primarily covering issues of identity, culture, and social justice.
Screenshot via Google Books