Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2013 Issue

Google Wins a Small Victory in Long-Running Google Books Case

Gbjuly2013

A small victory for Google in a long-running case.

Google won a small victory in its eight-year-old Google Books litigation, a lawsuit where the major battles have gone against them. Google has been scanning old books to make their texts available online, reportedly up to 20 million now. Many are very old and clearly in the public domain, but others may or may not be under copyright, and for those that are, locating the copyright holders can be extremely difficult, if not impossible.

When Google began making portions of the texts of these books available, they were sued by the Authors Guild. The Guild demanded permission first be obtained from the copyright holders, even if finding them was virtually impossible. The two sides negotiated for a long time, and eventually reached a settlement. Google would publish only a small “snippet” of the text. If you wanted the rest, you had to buy it. The copyright holders would receive 63% of the payments, Google the other 37%. Authors could opt out or claim their share, and if they did neither, the money would be held in trust for them for a period of time, and then given to charity.

It sounded like a good deal, but many others objected. Some authors did not support the settlement, several of Google's competitors complained, and the heaviest hitter, the U.S. Department of Justice, also objected. Their complaint was that the law requires you must first obtain the copyright holders' permission, and the impossibility of doing so is no excuse. The law is the law. The trial judge, Denny Chin, agreed. Permission of the copyright holder is required, and the Authors Guild, he ruled, has no right to agree to a settlement on behalf of all of the copyright holders who are not members of their organization.

With that, it was back to square one. The Authors Guild reinstituted their suit against Google. This time, they also filed to represent a class action suit for damages on behalf of all of the copyright holders. The first step to such an action is to get the court to recognize the class. Judge Chin recognized them. He noted that requiring each copyright holder to sue individually would be far more costly, and risked having conflicting outcomes from the same set of circumstances.

Google appealed. It cited two major objections. Reminiscent of the claim that prevented the Authors Guild from settling on behalf of the copyright holders, Google said that the Guild could not represent the class of copyright holders as “many members of the class, perhaps even a majority,” approve of Google Books. After all, it does provide a potential source of income from old books, long out of print, unlikely otherwise to ever raise another dime for their authors. Google's second objection was on the “fair use” doctrine. This is a rule which allows you to use a limited amount of copyrighted material. For example, a book reviewer can't reprint or post online an entire copyrighted book, but he can post a few quotes from it. That is what Google believes it is doing in posting a couple of lines, a “snippet,” from the book in response to searches. That, they say, is traditional “fair use.”

On appeal, the Second Circuit Court did not rule on the first claim, whether the Auction Guild can fairly represent a class action. They did hint that they consider this a serious objection if it ever becomes necessary to decide on these grounds. They described the objections as “an argument which, in our view, may carry some force.” However, they overturned Judge Chin's ruling, at least for the moment, until the “fair use” argument can be decided.

What the Second Circuit concluded was that if it is determined that Google's posting of “snippets” constitutes “fair use,” there is no case for a class action suit for damages. If Google violated no laws, they cannot be sued for damages. So, rather then start an entire class action proceeding before knowing whether a wrong was committed, the appeals court sent the case back to Judge Chin to first decide whether Google had violated any rules, or whether displaying “snippets” from the books was legal “fair use.”

So now Judge Chin must decide whether this is “fair use.” If he finds that it is, this case is over. If he finds it is not, Google will undoubtedly appeal again. Then the appeals court can either overturn Judge Chin again, because it decides that this is “fair use,” or because it finds that the Authors Guild cannot represent a class which includes parties that approve of Google Books, or it can affirm Judge Chin's decision.

It must be noted that while this decision may lead to an end of this class action suit for damages, it will not address the bigger issue – what happens after a viewer sees the “snippet.” Under the earlier, disapproved settlement, the viewer could have purchased access to the rest of the book from Google. Without that settlement, or some other solution, the viewer will not be able to buy access to the rest of the book unless that particular copyright holder has granted Google permission. For all of those “orphan books,” ones whose copyright holders cannot be found, the viewer will not be able to look beyond the “snippet.” If they really want it, they will have to find an old copy for sale or find a library that holds it. They won't be able to click a button and begin reading the rest online.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.

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