In light of Google's Nov. 14 victory in a lawsuit against the Authors Guild, students can continue using Google Books as an academic research tool.
The lawsuit began in 2005 after Authors Guild, a collective organization of author representatives, accused Google of digitizing millions of books without copyright permission. The organization claimed that Google’s online library, Google Books, primarily served to enhance their website and gain a competitive advantage over fellow online search engines and demanded that the company pay $750 for each scanned book.
Google's victory was announced by U.S. circuit judge Denny Chin. University leaders noted that the case's significance carries past its immediate effects on Google itself.
“This ruling sets an important precedent that allows analogous projects to proceed going forward without the risk of legal liability,” said Jennifer Jenkins, a senior lecturing fellow at the School of Law.
Jenkins noted that the verdict safeguards the use of valuable research tools. As a result, Duke students can continue to benefit from Google Books as an academic aid.
Universities not only allow students to use Google Books but also enable them to use the program well through teaching them how to use it, said Kevin Smith, director of copyright and scholarly communication at the Duke University Libraries. He added that, within the court room, Justice Chin strongly emphasized the importance of Google Books for research.
Google Books contribution to the public played a role in the verdict, said Jenkins. The court ruled in Google’s favor because it recognized a significant public benefit from Google Books and recognized Google Books as fair use of copyright material.
Jenkins added that fair use allows use of copyright material without permission if it is socially beneficial and does not interfere with legitimate markets of its author.
“Fair use is presented based of the facts that are presented to the court of a particular case,” Smith said. “So the outcome may not be the same for other similar cases.”
The ruling stated that Google Books makes books more readily accessible, allows users to view how words and phrases have changed over time and helps libraries preserve literature through digitization, Jenkins noted. The project has additional benefits in its ability to aid print disabled populations—such as blind people—and increase featured authors' marketability and presence.
Much of Google's defense aligned with the reasons given in the court ruling for the corporation's victory. In addition, the defense documents claimed that Google's use of the online library was only "indirectly commercial" and did not earn revenue from the display of the author's work.
Google Books came about in 2004 when an agreement to digitize current and out-of-print works was approved by various libraries from major research institutions such as Harvard University, Oxford University and Stanford University as well as the New York Public Library.
These institutions sent trucks of books to many of Google's secret locations and digitized them using sophisticated technology, Jenkins said.
Google also implemented the program Partner Project, which allows an author to make certain specifications about how their work is presented and conduct a deal to allow Google to digitalize their work.
Jenkins noted that Google scanned books from the libraries without permission because the project would have been impossible otherwise.
“Trying to find all the owners of those books would have been impossible...the time it would have taken to get copyright permission from all those authors would have been ridiculously long—the project would have become unrealistic," Jenkins said.
Although the final verdict was in Google’s favor, Authors Guild plans to appeal the original decision.
“So it’s not over, but it was a big decision,” Smith said.