Google Books versus The Authors


Recently, The Guardian reported that various well-known, respected and successful authors have joined with the US Authors Guild in a lawsuit to prevent Google from adding books that are still under copyright from being added to the ever-growing collection of digitized books.

Before delving into this court case, that is indeed very relevant to every author, let us just look at the aim and history of Google Books

Google Books: An Overview

Google Books contains a range of print books and magazines that were scanned and digitized. This means that the text in these books can be searched. These books are provided by publishers, authors and Google’s Library Partners.

In other words, the idea is to make print books in libraries all over the world accessible via the Internet. The first books were scanned in 2004, and the collection has reached 25 million books by October 2015. Google believes that there are about 130 million unique titles in existence. They aimed to complete this project before the end of the 2000’s.

Copyright and Fair Use

The fact that a book has been scanned and digitized does not automatically mean that the entire book is available for reading, copying or printing.

Google has a four tier access system in place:

  • Full View: The complete book is available on Google Books and can be downloaded. Generally, these are books in Public Domain. In a few cases, publishers have given permission that books that are still under copyright may be accessed in this way.
  • Preview: The in-print book has been scanned and digitized completely, but the number of viewable pages is limited. These books are marked as copyrighted and downloading, printing, copying these texts are restricted.
  • Snippets: This view is for books where Google does not have the right to display a preview. Only, a very limited sample is displayed. Generally, two or three lines surrounding the search query. Searches are also limited to prevent the user from gaining access to the complete text via varying search queries.
  • No preview: These are for books that have not been digitized yet. Effectively, a digital online library catalogue card, with the ISBN, author, publisher etc. are displayed.

Authors have the right to opt out from the program. If a book has already been scanned, it will be classified as a “No Preview” book.

It is important to understand what Google Books actually offer (do) in order to be able to accurately judge the complaints of the authors and publishers.

Fair Use, Copyright and Writer’s Incentive

Looking at the facts, as found on Wikipedia and Google Books, it does seem as if Google Books offer a real service. It seems as if authors and publishers are protected from being exploited.

If this is, in fact, the case, why has there been various lawsuits over the years to try and prevent Google Books from continuing its service to humanity?

The current case has its beginning back in 2005. The case was made that Google copied millions of books without permission and therefore illegally. Authors asked for damages amounting to $1500 per book.

This case was settled in favour of Google in 2013 by judge Denny Chin. He ruled that Google did not need the author’s permission to scan a book, or to publish snippets, which falls under fair use.

This judgement was appealed and the appeal was heard by the US court of appeals for the second circuit. And, again, Google won.

The Court said:

The ultimate goal of copyright is to expand public knowledge and understanding, which copyright seeks to achieve by giving potential creators exclusive control over copying of their works, thus giving them a financial incentive to create informative, intellectually enriching works for public consumption . . . Thus, while authors are undoubtedly important intended beneficiaries of copyright, the ultimate, primary intended beneficiary is the public, whose access to knowledge copyright seeks to advance by providing rewards for authorship.

The Last Chapter?

JM Coetzee, Margaret Atwood, Malcolm Gladwell, Peter Carey, Thomas Keneally, Ursula K Le Guin, Tracy Chevalier, Yann Martel and Richard Flanagan, are but some of the authors who have joined the Authors Guild’s in the latest attempt to prevent Google Book from continuing its digitization project.

An appeal was lodged at the Supreme court, which is expected to determine during the second quarter of the year as to whether they will hear this appeal or not.

How do we at InstaScribe feel about this? Zen Scribe answered eloquently, convincing us all of his wisdom, but he chose the No Preview option concerning his statements.

At this point, we don’t know if the Supreme Court of the US will even hear the appeal, and whether the authors and the Authors Guild will win.

What do you think? Is Google Books a valid, reputable endeavour or is it a legalised version of The Piratebay?

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