The U.S. Supreme Court has left in place an October 2015 ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York in favor of Google against claims by the Authors Guild and several individual writers over the Google Books project. By declining to hear a challenge from the group of authors, the high court effectively rules that Google’s practices were ultimately allowed under the law.
The Google Books project launched in 2004. According to court papers, the company made digital copies of more than 20 million books from major research libraries for the project and established a publicly available search function. The program allows users to search the content of the books and displays excerpts that show the relevant search results. However, Google says that users cannot read any substantial portion of any book.
The authors sued Google, whose parent company is Alphabet, in 2005, a year after the Google Books project was launched. They complained that Google’s massive effort to scan millions of books for an online library violated copyright law and illegally deprived them of revenue. The authors complained that the Google Books project makes it harder for them to market their work and accused Google of “copyright infringement on an epic scale.”
Individual plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit included former New York Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton, who wrote “Ball Four,” Betty Miles, author of “The Trouble with Thirteen,” and Joseph Goulden, author of “The Superlawyers: The Small and Powerful World of Great Washington Law Firms.” A lower court dismissed the litigation in 2013, prompting the authors’ appeal. Google said it could have faced billions of dollars in potential damages if the authors had prevailed.
A unanimous three-judge appeals court panel then upheld the ruling of the lower court. In October, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that Google’s “snippet view” amounts in the aggregate to no more than 16 percent of a book at best. Therefore, Google was not violating copyright laws when it showed customers those small portions of the books. It further ruled that Google’s actions “does not threaten the rights holders with any significant harm to the value of their copyrights or diminish their harvest of copyright revenue.”