Google Wins Appeals Court Decision to Scan Books

Judge's gavel, lawsuitGoogle wins again. For the past ten years, Google has battled authors and publishers over the right to make snippets of books searchable on its massive search engine. On Friday, October 16, the 2nd United States Circuit Court of Appeals in New York unanimously agreed with Google in their ruling.

In essence, it is legal under copyright law for Google to scan millions of books and make snippets of them searchable online.

What does that mean for us?

The Authors Guild and several individual authors sued Google back in 2005, arguing that Google’s tactics took revenues away from authors. After a decade, it appears that Google won again. Back in 2013, the lower court dismissed the law suit, prompting the appeal more recently.

Circuit Judge Pierre Leval wrote in the ruling, “Google’s division of the page into tiny snippets is designed to show the searcher just enough context surrounding the searched term to help her evaluate whether the book falls within the scope of her interest (without revealing so much as to threaten the author’s copyright interests),”

Authors Guild Executive Director Mary Rasenberger said she was disappointed that the court was “unable to see the damaging effect that uses such as Google’s will have on an authors’ potential income.”

In a statement, Google said, “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 faire use, acting like a card catalog for the digital age.”

Since 2004, Google has scanned more than 20 million books.

What’s your take on this? Does this infringe on your copyright? Are you losing revenue because Google scans your books and uses snippets in search? Is this just a scam to get more revenue for Google?

Unlike Google search, Google Books search does not display ads nor do they earn revenue if you click the link to buy the book. One of the arguments that the Authors Guild makes is that the Google Books project puts the author at risk for a security breach where the book can be stolen and disseminated free of charge.

Hmmm. We’ve never seen that happen before, have we? In this case, the judges ruled that Google’s security measures were good enough to prevent that from happening.

If you are on the side of the Authors Guild, have no fear. Rasenberger has declared that this isn’t over. They will now take the case to the Supreme Court.

Author: Jim Devitt

Jim Devitt’s debut YA novel, The Card, hit #1 in three separate categories on the Kindle Bestseller list in early January and was a finalist in the Guys Can Read Indie Author Contest this past summer. Devitt currently lives in Miami, FL with his wife Melissa and their children. Learn more about Jim at his blog and his Amazon author page.

23 thoughts on “Google Wins Appeals Court Decision to Scan Books”

  1. When I find books on Google, including one of my own, I find extensive blocks of text that go on for many pages. I expect the Supreme Court to reverse this decision that goes against every definition of fair use commonly accepted up to now. The judges making these rulings are inept when it comes to copyright law.

  2. I guess it all depends how long those ‘snippets’ are. Does the detailed ruling specify? This is no different to Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’, or extracts we post ourselves on our websites in order to encourage readers to buy.

    1. The snippets are truly “snippets” that contain the search word or phrase. That is very different than Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

      The ruling does not specify what a snippet is, but it did look at existing evidence of how Google is treating the process.

    1. Hi Frank, our buttons go directly to the book’s page – so we’re not providing a “snippet.” Any excerpts we do provide on this site are with the permission of the author.

  3. But Malcolm, this isn’t talking about that. “Finding your book on Google” in the situation you describe is finding your book on some pirate site using Google, NOT finding your book in Google books.

    As for your questions, Jim …

    Does it violate your copyright? No. The court said so. 🙂 (It’s also the correct decision.)

    Are you losing revenue? No. In fact, if there is any impact on an author’s revenue, it is more likely to be to increase it although I would expect non-fiction authors will benefit from this more than fiction.

    Is this a scam … Not a scam, but Google is in business to make money. I assume they’ll monetize this in some fashion. They’re providing a valuable service, not only to researchers, helping them find books that cover information they’re looking for, but also publishers and authors whose books are sold due to finding out about them this way.

    The question of the possibility of a security breach is a reasonable concern. But let’s be realistic. If your book is available as an ebook somewhere, you’re already at risk for this. I’d trust Google to prevent this more than some of the ebook retailers out there. (I’ll even name Barnes & Noble as one of them.) Also, it doesn’t matter. If your book is being sold as an ebook, it is also going to be available on pirate sites. A security breach is only a concern because it would make it easy to make a ton of book available in one fell swoop.

    From what I can tell the AG is only good at one thing. Tilting at windmills. This case is just another example of that. 🙂

    1. “From what I can tell the AG is only good at one thing. Tilting at windmills. This case is just another example of that.”

      Just wanted to quote for emphasis. Does anyone believe that the AG is looking out for us? I do not.

    2. Al, Thanks for a great breakdown of the key points and questions. You are spot on.

      I’m always leery when AG gets involved.

  4. Many Indie Authors give books away to try to get more readers. Why would having snippets available via Google search any different? It reasons having visibility would be helpful to be found, as Big Al suggests.

    1. Thanks Elisabeth.
      You are absolutely right. There is a whole lot more out there than what Google provides through this service.

  5. Don’t want Big Al to get a Big Head, but he seems to have summed it up neatly. If for some reason he’s as naive as the rest of us for once, I hope someone will put us in the picture. Just what is the Author’s Guild’s point? How does this practice, which seems pretty normal to me, damage our incomes?
    Thanks to Jim and Al both.

    1. Thanks for commenting Gordon. Yeah, AG seems to think that Google is ripping off authors. Basically, Author’s Guild believes that Authors should be compensated the same as other search databases such as Westlaw, Lexis/Nexis and J-Stor (in their own words).

      They go on to say that even small losses of income could be at the peril of the authors.

  6. “…acting like a card catalog for the digital age.”

    That is exactly what Google Books does. It is a /free/ extension to the effective searching capabilities we have come to expect from Google. And in so far as any kind of enhanced visibility is good for authors in this age, Google is to be applauded. Sadly the Authors Guild is still stuck in the age of pen and paper. 🙁

  7. I can also see this case on the U.S. Supreme Court’s docket, but I agree with this most recent decision. But that’s only IF Google displays no more than say 2 or 3 pages and, perhaps, a link to the author’s web site where the user can buy the book in its entirety. However, a serious problem would occur if Google should publish several different “snippets” of a book tied to various key words. In other words, if someone typed the term “book” into the search engine, it would bring up only pages 1 – 3. But, if they typed in “red”, it would bring up only pages 4 – 6; thus giving the impression there are 2 different books. That truly would be copyright infringement.

    1. Alejandro, I think it will bring up multiple snippets if you search on a particular term, but they aren’t 2 or 3 pages. I think it is more like two or three sentences.

    2. Correct Al, the search brings up snippets related to the Keyword and highlights those words in the preview. This is no different from any other type of search you would do on Google. There are links to where individuals can buy books. Google claims that it does not make money on the book and there are no ads on the pages.

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