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Federal judge dismisses Google books copyright infringement case

A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) [official website] on Thursday dismissed [opinion, PDF] a class action lawsuit arising against Google [corporate website] over the company's unapproved scanning and uploading of copyrighted materials. The case revolved primarily around Google's Library Project [Google backgrounder], which uses advanced scanning techniques to provide digital copies of books to participant libraries. The libraries may only access copies of books of which they also have a physical copy. It was undisputed that Google scanned and provided these documents without the consent of their copyright owners and without providing them any compensation. In its defense Google invoked Section 107 [text, PDF] of the US Copyright Act, the "fair use" clause. This portion of the law provides that certain "fair uses" of copyrighted material will not be considered infringement if they are used for societally beneficial purposes such as research or education. Several factors are taken into account, such as any for-profit motive for using the material, the substantive portion of material used, and the effect of the use on the potential marketability of the material. In granting the motion for summary judgment, the court found that Google's usage of copyrighted material was "transformative," providing a societally beneficial service and mitigating any negative market effect by only providing "snippets" to users who have not already purchased the materials, thereby increasing awareness and access to many works. Though plaintiffs had correctly established a prima facie case for infringement, Google's affirmative defense proved sufficient to shield it from judgment.

In July the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected [JURIST report] the district court's grant of class-action status to plaintiffs in the present case, stating that a determination of the applicability of the "fair use" defense should have been made prior to the granting of the status. Google has been accused of copyright infringement on several different occasions. This lawsuit was filed [JURIST report] in September 2005 along with two others that year. Agence-France-Presse (AFP) filed suit [JURIST report] against Google News alleging that Google illegally retrieved material from their website. Google also raised the fair use [JURIST op-ed] defense in this case. The Association of American Publishers also brought suit [JURIST report] related to Google's scanning of documents for its Library Project. Google successfully defended [JURIST report] another infringement lawsuit in 2012 using the "fair use" exception, though ultimately the case was decided on separate grounds.

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