Washington — A judge has issued a long-awaited ruling that paves the way for search engines and others to allow users to search published books just like they search the Internet.  The Authors Guild and others brought a copyright suit against Google eight years ago for a book scanning project that offered excerpts of books in response to a user’s query.

In his ruling today, Judge Denny Chin said book scanning was “fair use” because it expanded information available to everyone from researchers to readers to the blind and didn’t harm the market for the original work.

Chin stated in his ruling:

“In my view, Google Books provides significant public benefits. It advances the progress of the arts and sciences, while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals, and without adversely impacting the rights of copyright holders.”

The Google Books decision demonstrates the importance and value of fair use to the public.  Companies can now invest money and time in creating tools that benefit the public without seeking permission from gatekeepers, if their efforts are transformative, which can involve copying and digitizing entire works.  The court also pointed out that these efforts can help the authors to sell more works, noting that “by helping readers and researchers identify books, Google Books benefits authors and publishers. . . . Hence, Google Books will generate new audiences and create new sources of income.”

The Computer & Communications Industry Association had filed briefs in this lawsuit arguing that in addition to it being the right interpretation of U.S. fair use laws that this would be a win for consumers.

The following statement may be attributed to CCIA’s VP for Law & Policy, Matt Schruers:

“This ruling is a vindication for transformative technologies online.  Judge Chin’s opinion makes unmistakably clear that the public’s access to revolutionary tools like Book Search, which advance research and understanding, and expand access to underserved populations, should not be limited by formalistic objections to scanning and indexing.”

For more information on this case, please see Ali Sternburg’s blog post on the Disruptive Competition Project blog.

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