The Google Books Judgement

November 22nd, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

recently won a court case the US Society of Authors brought against it for their Google Books service. The Society of Authors claimed that Google’s scanning in of 20 million or more books without the permission of the rights holders was a breach of . Google argued that it was fair use as they didn’t allow anyone to download a copy of the book, just search for and quote extracts of up to quarter of a page.

The details of what Google does to protect a book i its entirety being copied is interesting, as are the reasons the Judge gave for his decision which was a strong argument for the benefits of fair use.

For books in “snippet view” (in contrast to “full view” books), Google divides each page into eighths — each of which is a “snippet,” a verbatim excerpt. …

Google takes security measures to prevent users from viewing a complete copy of a snippet-view book. For example, a user cannot cause the system to return different sets of snippets for the same search query; the position of each snippet is fixed within the page and does not “slide” around the search term; only the first responsive snippet available on any given page will be returned in response to a query; one of the snippets on each page is “black-listed,” meaning it will not be shown; and at least one out of ten entire pages in each book is black-listed.

So even if one went through an entire book trying to use words found in it, to get an electronic copy, you would end up with 10% of pages missing and 12.5% of the other 90% of pages missing. Anyone wanting an electronic copy would just scan a hard copy in themselves1

The Judge lists the benefits of Google Books:

  1. Google Books provides a new and efficient way for readers and researchers to find books.  It makes tens of millions of books searchable by words and phrases. It provides a searchable index linking each word in any book to all books in which that word appears.
  2. Google Books has become an essential research tool, as it helps librarians identify and find research sources. Google Books has become such an important tool for researchers and librarians that it has been integrated into the educational system — it is taught as part of the information literacy curriculum to students at all levels
  3. Google Books greatly promotes a type of research referred to as “data mining” or “text mining.”  Google Books permits humanities scholars to analyze massive amounts of data — the literary record created by a collection of tens of millions of books. Researchers can examine word frequencies, syntactic patterns, and thematic markers to consider how literary style has changed over time.
  4. Google Books expands access to books. In particular, traditionally underserved populations will benefit as they gain knowledge of and access to far more books. Google Books provides print-disabled individuals with the potential to search for books and read them in a format that is compatible with text enlargement software, text-to-speech screen access software, and Braille devices.
  5. Google Books helps to preserve books and give them new life.
  6. By helping readers and researchers identify books, Google Books benefits authors and publishers.

These benefits are a great list of why fair use is so important in copyright.

Also worth quoting the judgement on whether Google Books may serve as a market replacement for books.

Here, plaintiffs argue that Google Books will negatively impact the market for books and that Google’s scans will serve as a “market replacement” for books. (Pl. Mem. at 41). It also argues that users could put in multiple searches, varying slightly the search terms, to access an entire book.  (9/23/13 Tr. at 6).

Neither suggestion makes sense. Google does not sell its scans, and the scans do not replace the books. While partner libraries have the ability to download a scan of a book from their collections, they owned the books already — they provided the original book to Google to scan. Nor is it likely that someone would take the time and energy to input countless searches to try and get enough snippets to comprise an entire book. Not only is that not possible as certain pages and snippets are blacklisted, the individual would have to have a copy of the book in his possession already to be able to piece the different snippets together in coherent fashion.

The argument that someone could use Google Books to get a free electronic copy is basically nuts. It’s impossible and even if i was not, would be far more effort than just scanning one in yourself.

To the contrary, a reasonable factfinder could only find that Google Books enhances the sales of books to the benefit of copyright holders. An important factor in the success of an individual title is whether it is discovered — whether potential readers learn of its existence. (Harris Decl. ¶ 7 (Doc. No. 1039)). Google Books provides a way for authors’ works to become noticed, much like traditional in-store book displays. (Id. at 14-15). Indeed, both librarians and their patrons use Google Books to identify books to purchase. (Br. of Amici Curiae American Library Ass’n at 8). Many authors have noted that online browsing in general and Google Books in particular helps readers find their work, thus increasing their audiences.  Further, Google provides convenient links to booksellers to make it easy for a reader to order a book. In this day and age of  on-line shopping, there can be no doubt but that Google Books improves books sales.

You have to wonder why the Society of Authors took this case? I know many authors who did not support their action. They were arguing against a service that helps generates sales for them.

I think it is just being reactionary. I guess once upon a time the Society of Authors probably opposed allowing libraries to lend books out, as they saw it as a threat also.

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4 Responses to “The Google Books Judgement”

  1. RRM (9,665 comments) says:

    FFS, assembling a complete book to read from Google “snippets” – even if it were possible – would take far longer than actually reading the book. Why would anyone who wants to spend his time reading books do this?

    RRM’s finest literary accomplishments to date have been reading Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon and Giles goat-boy by John Barth. I have to admit I am not really smart enough for this kind of literature, and at the end I found myself with only a foggy understanding of what just happened. This is from reading something in order from start to finish, in the order the author intended, in comfortable-sized installments, over a few weeks, before I had kids.

    Cutting and pasting a decent novel together from disjointed Google snippets would just be an exercise in destroying brain cells…

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  2. ropata (117 comments) says:

    Plenty of hacks available. Google to be the next PirateBay? http://book.huhiho.com/

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  3. DJP6-25 (1,312 comments) says:

    It’d be a boon for students. I’d use it if I was still at uni.

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  4. MH (690 comments) says:

    I’ll never give up or allow them to copy my classic comics esp Richard the !!!, I’m waiting for it to be reduced to Txt able comprehension.

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