Fair Use Book Search

Texts transformed


Google can continue to scan books and provide searchable snippets online, a federal judge decided in November. Judge Denny Chin of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that Google Books uses the searchable words in qualitatively new ways, which counts as "fair use" under copyright law.

The Authors Guild, fighting the company in court since 2005, thought Google should pay authors or be quashed. Chin disagreed. He pointed out that authors need not be scared about Google's search function costing them sales. Since text snippets appear with "links to sellers of the book and/or libraries listing the book as part of their collections," the judge said, "a reasonable fact finder could only find that Google Books enhances the sales of books to the benefit of copyright holders.…Google Books provides a way for authors' works to become noticed."

Whether or not Google Books helps authors, Chin does not think the site's activities are illegal. The fair use doctrine considers whether a new use is "transformative," and Chin believes this one is. The search engine "has transformed book text into data for purposes of substantive research, including data mining and text mining in new areas," he wrote. "Words in books are being used in a way they have not been used before."