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Judge Tips Google's Way in 8-Year-Old Books Saga

Judge Tips Google's Way in 8-Year-Old Books Saga

Google won a critical victory for its Google Books project, but there are still a few more chapters ahead. For one thing, the Authors Guild may appeal the judge's decision to toss out its class action. Also, there's another closely related suit pending, brought by the American Society of Media Photographers. Still, Google is delighted with today's judgment, said spokesperson Maggie Shiels.

By Richard Adhikari
11/15/13 2:51 PM PT

United States District Court Judge Denny Chin has ruled in favor of Google in a lawsuit filed by the Authors Guild over the Google Books project.

"In my view, Google Books provides significant public benefits," Chin stated in his ruling.

"It advances the progress of the arts and sciences, while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals, and without adversely impacting the rights of copyright holders ... generates new audiences and creates new sources of income for authors and publishers. Indeed, all society benefits," he wrote.

Chin granted Google's motion for summary judgment and required Google to submit a proposed judgment on notice within five business days from Friday.

The Court's Reasoning

The fair use doctrine, which was applied to this case, consists of four factors, as laid out in Section 107 of the Copyright Act: the purpose and character of the use; the nature of the copyrighted work; the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and the effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.

These factors are nonexclusive and provide only general guidance, Chin said. They have to be explored and weighed together.

"A reasonable fact finder could only find that Google Books enhances the sales of books to the benefit of copyright holders," Chin said. "In this day and age of online shopping, there can be no doubt but that Google Books improves book sales."

The Twisted Tale of the Copyright Dispute

The Authors' Guild suit against Google was launched in 2005, and its saga has been a convoluted one.

The Association of American Publishers also filed suit against Google, in October 2005, over Google Books.

Google, the Authors Guild and the AAP in 2008 reached a proposed settlement under which Google would pay US$125 million.

However, Chin ruled in March 2011 that the settlement "would simply go too far," because it would "give Google a significant advantage over competitors, rewarding it for engaging in wholesale copying of copyrighted works without permission, while releasing claims well beyond those presented in the case."

Chin ruled in May 2012 that the Guild's suit had class certification status; however, that ruling was stayed by the Second Circuit court in September pending an interlocutory appeal by Google.

In July, the Second Circuit vacated Chin's class certification without deciding the merits of Google's appeal, concluding that resolution of Google's fair use defense would inform -- and, perhaps, render moot -- the analysis of many class certification issues.

If an appellate court intervenes in a case, its decision "can give the judge some new guidance to consider, as the Second Circuit did here," Scott Dodson, a professor of law at UC Hastings College of the Law and an expert in federal procedure, told the E-Commerce Times.

In October, Google and the AAP settled, but the terms were not disclosed.

Reactions to Chin's Ruling

"This has been a long road, and we are absolutely delighted with today's judgment," Google spokesperson Maggie Shiels told the E-Commerce Times.

Google Books acts like a card catalog for the digital age, she added.

The Authors Guild plans to appeal the ruling, but, in order to be successful, it "will likely need to convince the court that their economic interests are hurt by the Google Books project," Ben Depoorter, a professor of law at UC Hastings College of the Law, told the E-Commerce Times.

However, the Guild's bid to obtain payment from Google over Google Books "is off the table now," he pointed out.

A Guild spokesperson was not immediately available to provide further details

Meanwhile, the American Society of Media Photographers, which leads a coalition of groups that has also filed suit over Google Books, will continue its action.

"As of now, there has been no discussion of discontinuing the lawsuit in any fashion," Victor Perlman, ASMP's general counsel and managing director, told the E-Commerce Times.

Although the two suits are treated as related cases, they are separate.


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