Google’s Scanning Books Online – Copyright Infringement?

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A debate is heating up over whether Google’s ambitious project to scan and put millions of books online amounts to a fantastic service, or copyright infringement (or both).

As originally reported here back in December, Google has deals to scan millions of books with at least five libraries, including the New York Public Library, as well as university libraries such as those at Stanford, Harvard, and Oxford.


The tension lays between those who believe that having the content of books online can help to boost both interest and sales, and those who are concerned that even if the way Google has set up their project doesn’t amount copyright infringement per se, it may open the door to more troublesome situations.

Google maintains that their model is protected under the doctrine of fair use, in large part, it seems, because for any book which has a copyright attached, a user may only view a small snippet at a time through Google, and never more than 20% of the entire book, even if they aggregate searches. Books which are not subject to copyright, and which are in the public domain, will be available online in full.

In addition, Google has reached out to book publishers, and asked them to volunteer lists of books which they don’t want scanned. They liken this to their allowing website owners to opt out of having their website, or certain pages on the site, indexed by the Google robot.

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These assurances aren’t enough, say some. Tony Sanfilippo, of Penn State University Press, explains that “We’re not aware of everything we’ve published. Back in the 50s, 60s and 70s, there were no electronic files for those books.”

But Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media, and in fact an adviser to Google on the book scanning project, says that “For a typical author, obscurity is a far greater threat than piracy. Google is offering publishers an amazing opportunity for people to discover their content.”

“More and more people are expecting access, and they are making do with what they can get easy access to. Let’s make it so that they find great works rather than whatever just happens to be on the Net,” explained Brewster Kahle, of the Internet Archive.

 

Still, the issue remains that an enormous number of books are subject to copyright protection. And while no copyright infringement lawsuit against Google’s book scanning has yet been filed, that doesn’t mean that one is not forthcoming. Opines Jonathan Zittrain of Harvard Law School, “From the point of view of the publishers, you can’t blame them for playing their role, which is to maximize sales. But if fair use wasn’t found, (Google) would never be able to do the mass importation of books required to make a database that is socially useful.”

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The Internet Patrol is and always has been free. We don't hide our articles behind a paywall, or restrict the number of articles you can read in a month if you don't give us money. That said, it does cost us money to run the site, so if something you read here was helpful or useful, won't you consider donating something to help keep the Internet Patrol free?
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One thought on “Google’s Scanning Books Online – Copyright Infringement?

  1. What google are doing is destroying small businesses. I have just found out they have scanned volumes of mine and a friend without us knowing. We both rely on those works that we published privately for our income.

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