The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed an amicus brief today urging a federal court to find that the fair use doctrine shelters Google's Book Search "snippet" project from copyright infringement claims from the Authors Guild. EFF was joined by three associations representing over 100,000 libraries, the Association of Research Libraries, the American Library Association, and the Association of College and Research Libraries.
For years, Google has been cooperating with libraries to digitize books for a searchable database available to the public. Google Book Search now includes over 12 million works that users can search for keywords. Results include titles, page numbers, and small snippets of text. Google Book Search has become an extraordinarily valuable tool for librarians, scholars, and amateur researchers of all kinds.
For example, librarians surveyed about Google Book Search said the service can help them find valuable research sources inside their own libraries as well as lead them to rare books they can borrow from other institutions. Many librarians say that they have purchased new books for their collections after discovering them through using Google Book Search. However, the Authors Guild argues that its members are due compensation in exchange for their books being digitized and included in the database - even though blocking Google Book Search's digitization wouldn't bring any author any additional revenue.
"Google Book Search is a reference tool that helps people find books. It doesn't take the place of sales," said EFF Fellow Michael Barclay. "The fair use doctrine allows for services like Google Book Search - they cause no economic harm and serve the welfare of the public."
The amicus brief filed today is part of EFF's long involvement in Authors Guild v. Google. In 2009 EFF and a coalition of authors and publishers objected to a proposed broad settlement of the case that would have created a business for Google selling access to whole books, based on the failure of the settlement to protect the privacy of readers. A judge rejected that broad settlement last year.
Now Google seeks approval of the more narrow search and snippet project, and EFF agrees that the fair use doctrine applies.
"Google Book Search is a digital update to the old card catalog that helps libraries, helps researchers, and ultimately helps authors reach their audiences," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "We hope the court protects Google Book Search - and the researchers and other readers who depend on it - from these meritless copyright claims."
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