In November 2013, a federal judge in the Southern District of New York dismissed a lawsuit against Google, Inc., finding that Google’s copying of print works in connection with its Google Books project represents fair use under 17 U.S.C. § 107. The Google Books project includes two main programs: a “partner” program, in which Google stores and displays material provided by book publishers or other rights holders, and a “library” project, in which Google digitizes the entire collection of a library to make its text available for search and other uses. Back in 2005, The Authors Guild, Inc., along with several individual authors, brought suit against Google for copyright infringement based on unauthorized copying that occurs in connection with the digitization of printed works. In the opinion, Circuit Judge Chin analyzed the alleged copyright infringement in view of several fair use factors laid out in § 107, including the purpose and character of the use of copyrighted material, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion used, and the effect of the use on the potential market for the work. Judge Chin found that the Google Books project provides many previously-unavailable benefits to the public without superseding or supplanting the books themselves, and therefore held that any copyright infringement associated with the program represents fair use under the law. This decision highlights the ever-changing landscape of fair use—and copyright law in general—in the digital age. Practitioners dealing with fair use and other copyright issues should be mindful of the dynamic landscape surrounding copyright and digital media.
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