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Supreme Court closes book on Google Books lawsuit

The Supreme Court, when it last had nine justices

The New York Times reports that the United States Supreme Court has refused to hear a case in which a coalition of authors claim that Google Books—a project in which the internet behemoth scanned millions of books and made them searchable online—was a violation of copyright. By not hearing the authors’ claim, the Court is tacitly endorsing a lower court ruling that declared Google’s project covered by “fair use,” and the search engine could remain online.

Before you get excited about catching up on the Harry Potter series for free, consider that the 20 million books scanned were reference books taken from research libraries, and that readers can search the database for relevant passages but not the full text of a book. This, apparently was enough to convince the courts that Google’s search was not a threat to copyright.


It was not enough to convince The Authors Guild, though, who began legal proceedings back in 2005. Their argument to the Supreme Court insisted that the lower court was guilty of, “unprecedented judicial expansion of the fair-use doctrine that threatens copyright protection in the digital age.” The brief on the Guild’s behalf was signed by a number of authors, including Margaret Atwood, Peter Carey, J.M. Coetzee, Tony Kushner, and Ursula K. LeGuin. Google, on its behalf, defended its Books project as a boon to readers, who can, “identify, determine the relevance of and locate books they might otherwise never have found.”

The dejected authors have no further recourse against Google, and will continue to put their books in libraries, where the public can read them for free in their entirety. Google, meanwhile, is probably planning a doodle in which 20 million scanned books rearrange to spell out, “In your face!,” while confetti falls across the page.

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