Google has defeated writers who alleged the web giant broke the law when it put extracts from millions of books online for free.
The Authors Guild and groups representing photographers and graphic artists sued the advertising goliath, claiming the Google Books website was a massive breach of copyright. The service has scanned 30 million titles since 2004, and allows people to retrieve texts without anyone paying a dime to the authors.
Today, a US judge ruled that the digitizing project is covered by "fair use" protections against copyright claims, capping off a long-running legal battle over the legality of the archive operation that had threatened to shut it down.
"This has been a long road and we are absolutely delighted with today's judgment," the company said in a canned statement.
"As we have long said Google Books is in compliance with copyright law and acts like a card catalog for the digital age giving users the ability to find books to buy or borrow."
According to southern New York district court Judge Denny Chin, the Google Books project does not infringe copyright, and that it should be protected from further legal action.
The ruling marks a turning point in a legal war that has raged between Google and the publishing industry for eight years. Last October, the web giant settled with publishers in the US over similar claims.
"In my view, Google Books provides significant public benefits," Judge Chin said in his decision today.
"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 judge upheld the arguments by Google that the project would fall under fair-use protections in the US. The company claimed that because the project only serves up digital excerpts, it should not be viewed as a competitor to stores selling printed books and e-books, which bring revenues for publishers and creators.
Judge Chin suggested that the Books project could even boost sales.
"A reasonable fact-finder could only find that Google Books enhances the sales of books to the benefit of copyright holders ... Indeed, both librarians and their patrons use Google Books to identify books to purchase," he declared.
With the matter over, for now, Google will now be able to have the complaint dismissed, and be allowed to continue its quest to assimilate the world's tomes – all 129,800,000 of them. ®