Case Briefs

Authors Guild v. Google, Inc.

Case(s): Authors Guild v. Google, Inc., 804 F.3d 202 (2d Cir. 2015)

The Authors Guild sued Google, Inc. in 2005 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, accusing the tech company of scanning more than twenty-million books for without the copyright holders’ authorization, thereby, engaging in copyright infringement. Google “delivered digital copies to participating libraries, created an electronic database of books, and made text available for online searching through the use of ‘snippets,’” the plaintiff alleged.

District Court Decision

Google defended on the ground that its actions constitute “fair use,” which, under 17 U.S.C. § 107, is “not an infringement.” The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York agreed, finding that Google’s digitization and subsequent use of the copyrighted works was fair use and granted summary judgment in Google’s favor. The Authors Guild appealed.

Second Circuit Appeal

The Second Circuit upheld the district court’s determination that Google’s digitization and subsequent use of the copyrighted works amounts to fair use. According to the Second Circuit, “Google’s making of a digital copy to provide a search function is a transformative use, which augments public knowledge by making available information about the plaintiffs’ books without providing the public with a substantial substitute for matter protected by the plaintiffs’ copyright interests in the original works or derivatives of them.” The same is true, “at least under present conditions,” the court says, “of Google’s provision of the snippet function.”

The plaintiffs’ contention that Google has usurped their opportunity to access paid and unpaid licensing markets for substantially the same functions that Google provides “fails, in part because the licensing markets in fact involve very different functions than those that Google provides, and in part because an author’s derivative rights do not include an exclusive right to supply information (of the sort provided by Google) about her works.”

“Google’s profit motivation does not in these circumstances justify denial of fair use, [and its] program does not, at this time and on the record before us, expose the plaintiffs to an unreasonable risk of loss of copyright value through incursions of hackers,” the court held. “Finally, Google’s provision of digital copies to participating libraries, authorizing them to make non-infringing uses, is non-infringing, and the mere speculative possibility that the libraries might allow use of their copies in an infringing manner does not make Google a contributory infringer.”

As such, the Second Circuit held that the plaintiffs failed to show a material issue of fact in dispute and affirmed the lower court’s judgment.