Latest chapter on Google Books: Court says it’s legal under fair use

US appeals court OKs book-scanning project because it makes only excerpts available. Authors say they’ll appeal again, citing threat to “literary heritage.”

Ever go to Google to read an excerpt of a book?

A ruling Friday from a federal appeals court means you’ll still be able to do that.

The Second US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said Google Books doesn’t infringe on copyright because the service makes only passages from books available.

The Authors Guild, a New York-based trade group, filed a lawsuit in 2005 against the then-year-old service, an effort by the tech giant to scan the world’s books and make text accessible for free online. In 2013, a lower court dismissed the case, citing fair use.

Had the appeals court ruled against Google, it would have signaled the end of the service, said one legal expert. That would have changed how people coming to Google’s search site, including students and researchers, could access the tech firm’s trove of digitally copied books.

Today’s fair-use ruling is a major legal win for the Mountain View, California, company, which otherwise would have had to pay billions of dollars in fines.

“Today’s decision underlines what people who use the service tell us: Google Books gives them a useful and easy way to find books they want to read and buy, while at the same time benefiting copyright holders,” Google said in a statement, which also compared the service to a “card catalog for the digital age.”

The Authors Guild said it was “disappointed” in the ruling, and suggested it would appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

“We are very disheartened that the court was unable to understand the grave impact that this decision, if left standing, could have on copyright incentives and, ultimately, our literary heritage,” Mary Rasenberger, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

Because people had been using the service for so long, the decision doesn’t come as a surprise, said legal expert Josh Schiller. He’s an attorney with Boies, Schiller & Flexner who argued another fair-use case that was heavily cited in the Google case.

“I think there was an expectation, at least in young people, that this wasn’t ever going to change,” Schiller said.

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