A huge amount of the future of publishing is at stake and also access to most valuable books of our civilization as we are waiting for the outcome in the famous Authors Guild v. Google case.
This long-running class action lawsuit centers on the allegations by the Authors Guild that Google infringed their copyrights in developing its Google Book Search database and tries to rip them off. Google wants to do with books the same what it did with the Internet, which is to organize and categorize all the books and allow people to have access to them.
In November 2013, the U.S. court decided that Google's use of copyrighted material was allowed under fair use. The case, brought against Google by the Authors Guild, has been running since 2005 and has taken many twists and turns along the way. This latest part began in 2012 following a judge's ruling that the Authors Guild could file a class action lawsuit against the search giant.
Google allows users to search and view snippets of more than 20 million books online without paying. The Authors Guild had initially sued Google for $750 for each book, valuing the case at $3 billion. However, U.S. circuit judge Denny Chin concluded that Google's work provides "significant public benefits".
Google’s official expressed content with the verdict. According to them, Google Books acts like a card catalog in the digital age, giving users the ability to find books to buy or borrow.
In April 2014, the Authors Guild filed an appeal in the case. In their view, Google’s actions go beyond the scope of the fair use.
Google has been scanning books into Google Books since 2004. Works, which are in the public domain are available to read and download in their entirety. Books that are still under copyright can only be searched by users, allowing them to read multiple paragraph snippets of titles that are relevant to their searches and offering links that helps them to purchase e-book versions.
It is not the first lawsuit against Google for Google Books. Google has been getting sued over the practice for almost as long as it has been around, with the Authors Guild filing the current suit in 2005. Judge Denny Chin rejected a proposed $125,000,000 settlement in the case in 2011.
According to Roxanna Robinson, the president of the Author’s Guild, Google’s motives are purely commercial, and that only authors have the right to decide whether their books should be available electronically.
The Authors Guild also proposes a new alternative to the content discoverability service Google Books provides to researchers and book browsers by creating a National Digital Library that would be available at every campus and in every community. This National Digital Library would be the equivalent of the American Society’s for Composers, Authors, and Publishers library, where works would be published in their entirety, not just in snippets.
The Authors Guild released an outline of that proposal, which it hopes to lobby Congress for. Jan Constantine, the general counsel of the Authors Guild, said before the House Judiciary Committee that ad hoc approaches (such as Google Books) to mass digitalization of books and orphan works endanger literary culture.
However, this proposal cannot be invoked as an argument before the court. The court has to rule on the basis of the law as it written today, it cannot decline to issue a judgment just because the law might change.
On 3 December 2014, the oral arguments in the appeal case were made before the Judges José A. Cabranes, Pierre N. Leval, Barrington D. Parker of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
The counsel for the Authors Guild Paul Smith argued that Google’s actions are commercial in nature, and their aim is to maximize visits to Google’s website in order to increase advertising revenues. Therefore, Google Books does not fall within the scope of fair use.
The counsel for Google Seth P. Waxman argued that Google’s aim is to promote progress in the arts in accordance with the copyright’s constitutional purpose, and that there is no evidence of any market harm to the authors. The counsel also noted that no ads are displayed on pages displaying snippets or on pages with search results, and that Google makes no money from referring to purchase e-books.
It is hard to ascertain when the appellate court will pass its verdict and how the case will end.
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