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Google Books library ruling bad news for Author’s Guild

The libraries that supplied the books for Google’s effort to create the world’s largest online library were covered by fair use, a judge has ruled

The Author’s Guild had claimed the libraries that provided millions of works to the search engine to be scanned for the Google Books project without asking writers’ permission were infringing its members’ copyright.

But Judge Harold Baer of the District Court for the Southern District of New York said he could not imagine a definition of fair use that would cause him to terminate “this invaluable contribution to the progress of science and cultivation of the arts”. He also emphasised the public interest in the project’s aim of making books available digitally to visually impaired people.

The Author’s Guild is also suing Google in a separate lawsuit. While this month’s ruling for the libraries in The Author’s Guild v Hathitrust does not guarantee Google will prevail, it bodes well for the search engine.

“Certainly I would think that the judges are watching each other, but they are separate cases and separate defendants,” said Hillel Parness of Robins Kaplan Miller & Ciresi, who has been following the litigation.

Parness noted that statements made by Judge Denny Chin, who rejected a previous attempt by the Author’s Guild and Google to reach a class action settlement, suggested Chin may have concerns about Google’s “opt-out rather than opt-in” policy.

The ruling comes just one week after the search engine announced it had reached a separate settlement with the Association of American Publishers (AAP) over Google Books, ending a seven-year legal dispute.

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