Scanning whole books is fair use

A landmark fair use ruling: a judge in the Southern District Court of New York has ruled that Google's program of scanning books for libraries, and giving them copies to use for full-text search is fair use. The suit was brought by the Authors' Guild against the Hathitrust Digital Library, which holds the digital books for the library. Timothy B Lee does a good job summing up the judgment and its implications for Ars Technica:

"The use to which the works in the HDL are put is transformative because the copies serve an entirely different purpose than the original works: the purpose is superior search capabilities rather than actual access to copyrighted material," wrote Judge Baer. "The search capabilities of the HDL have already given rise to new methods of academic inquiry such as text mining." Similarly, Judge Baer noted, the scanning program allows blind readers to read the books, something they can't do with the original.

Also key is the fourth factor: the impact on the market for the works. While a book search engine obviously doesn't undermine the market for paper books, the authors had argued that a finding of fair use would hamper their ability to earn revenue by selling the right to scan their books. But Judge Baer rejected this argument as fundamentally circular. He quoted a previous court decision that made the point: "Were a court automatically to conclude in every case that potential licensing revenues were impermissibly impaired simply because the secondary user did not pay a fee for the right to engage in the use, the fourth factor would always favor the copyright owner."

Court rules book scanning is fair use, suggesting Google Books victory