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Google wins battle in copyright wars of digital books

Mark Leiser: I am a PhD Candidate in Cyber Law at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. I have written submissions for the Leveson Inquiry into the culture and ethics of the media and for the Scottish Parliament on the use of social media during trials. My PhD is supervised by Professor Andrew Murray at the London School of Economics and focuses on the effectiveness of cyber-regulation. My research and interests revolve around main areas of Internet law and policy including internet governance & regulation, democracy, social media, privacy, and intellectual property. My PhD research focuses on developing a system of modelling to measure the effectiveness and legitimacy of Internet Regulation. I write in a personal capacity.

Google is embroiled in legal dispute with the Authors' Guild over digital books

It started with an ambitious aim. Internet giant Google set out to scan the world’s books making the world’s current and out-of-print books a boon to researchers and the public. Now panel of judges in the US's Second Circuit Court of Appeals has thrown out a class action lawsuit brought against the Internet giant today ruling that the group of Authors Guild could not sue as a group. The ruling returnsthe case to a lower court to consider Google’s use of the fair use doctrine under American copyright law.

The Authors Guild, an association representing writers, sued Google over its scanning of books for online distribution via Google Books. The Authors Guild has demanded £450 for each scanned book scanned, with Google estimating that they would lose close to £1.5 billion if they were to lose the case. The ruling is the latest twist in the legal battle that has been going on since 2005. The court decided that before letting the lawsuit proceed as a class-action, a trial judge should consider Google's argument that showing excerpts from books online is a "fair use" that's allowed under copyright law.

A three-judge panel held: "Putting aside the merits of Google's claim that plaintiffs are not representative of the certified class—an argument which, in our view, may carry some force—we believe that the resolution of Google's fair-use defence in the first instance will necessarily inform and perhaps moot our analysis of many class certification issues."This ruling is rather unusual. It is not normal for courts to address this question at this stage of a claim and suggests the Appeal Court thinks Google has a compelling fair use defence.

Fair use is a doctrine that permits limited use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission from the rights holders. Examples of fair use include research, commentary, and criticism. It is widely credited to be one of the legal drivers behind the growth of the Internet and recent decisions have suggested that copyrighted material found in search engine results is fair use. The ruling means that individual authors will have to bring cases against Google as individuals after rejecting the class-action lawsuit. The ruling was a significant setback for authors who had scored recent victories against Google allowing them to proceed with the lawsuit.

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