A longstanding battle between Google and the authors of published books has been resolved (at least for now) in favor of Google. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has held that Google’s use of copyrighted books in its Library Project and Google Books website, without the permission of the authors, is fair use and therefore not copyright infringement. The Authors Guild v. Google, Inc. (2nd Cir. 2015) 804 F.3d 202.
In 2004, Google began its Library Project. Google entered into agreements with some of the world’s leading research libraries, including the University of California, the University of Michigan, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Princeton, the New York Public Library, and Oxford. Under the agreements, the libraries submitted certain books to Google which Google digitally scanned, made machine-readable texts, and indexed the texts. Google has now scanned and indexed over 20 million books. Some of the books were copyrighted, while others were in the public domain. Most of the books were out of print, non-fiction books. The digital copies are stored on Google’s servers.
The public can access Google’s database of machine-readable texts through the Google Books website. On the website, the user can search for key words and find all books that include the key words and the number of times the search terms appear in each book. The search results also include a short summary description of each book and may include a link to purchase the book or the names of the libraries where the book is located. The website also offers the user the ability to see up to three snippets (segments of about an eighth of a page) of the text of the book. Searches for different words will turn up different snippets, but one snippet out of every page and one page out of every ten pages of each book are permanently inaccessible to the user (referred to by Google as “blacklisted”). In 2005, Google agreed to remove the snippet feature for any book at the copyright owner’s request. Google does not permit advertising in the Google Books searches and does not get paid for any sales of books.