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This, and similar headlines, have been prominent in various newsletters in recent weeks, although the result seems to have surprised no one. I was astonished that the authors should bring the case against Google, since Google’s efforts to index books and make available clips in response to search enquiries actually makes it more likely that hitherto forgotten works will come to public attention and perhaps sell again.
The judge’s commentary on the value of Google Books to education, research and society at large is worth repeating – here with internal citations to supporting documents removed and slightly reduced:

The benefits of the Library Project are many. First, Google Books provides a new and efficient way for readers and researchers to find books… Google Books has become an essential research tool, as it helps librarians identify and find research sources, it makes the process of interlibrary lending more efficient, and it facilitates finding and checking citations. Indeed, 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.

Second, in addition to being an important reference tool, 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…

Third, Google Books expands access to books… [it] 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. Digitization facilitates the conversion of books to audio and tactile formats, increasing access for individuals with disabilities. Google Books facilitates the identification and access of materials for remote and underfunded libraries that need to make efficient decisions as to which resources to procure for their own collections or through interlibrary loans.

Fourth, Google Books helps to preserve books and give them new life. Older books, many of which are out-of-print books that are falling apart buried in library stacks, are being scanned and saved. These books will now be available, at least for search, and potential readers will be alerted to their existence.

Finally, by helping readers and researchers identify books, Google Books benefits authors and publishers. When a user clicks on a search result and is directed to an “About the Book” page, the page will offer links to sellers of the book and/or libraries listing the book as part of their collections… Hence, Google Books will generate new audiences and create new sources of income.

In summing up, the judge concluded:

In my view, Google Books provides significant public benefits. 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. It has become an
invaluable research tool that permits students, teachers, librarians, and others to more efficiently identify and locate books. It has given scholars the ability, for the first time, to conduct full-text searches of tens of millions of books. It preserves books, in particular out-of-print and old books that have been forgotten in the bowels of libraries, and it gives them new life. It facilitates access to books for print-disabled and remote or underserved populations. It generates new audiences and creates new sources of income for authors and publishers. Indeed, all society benefits.

What are the implications of this ruling for Google’s potential e-book publishing programme? Google already has an e-book store under the Google Play label, where it sells “regular” e-books, i.e., those published by the established publishing houses, along with self-published books and also freely available books. This judgement does not appear to affect the possible selling of so-called “orphan works”, i.e., those for which no copyright holder can be found, but Google might go ahead on this in any event. What the rule may do is persuade authors that they have more to gain through collaboration with Google than through fighting it and, having lost the case, I imagine that many authors will now be looking to gain some income from their out-of-print works, particularly if they hold the copyright and have not signed it away to their publisher. I would expect more news from Google on the e-book front. The judge’s decision, by the way, is well worth reading in full – and one can’t say that often about judicial rulings!

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