Perspectives

Legal Analysis

You may have heard about the legal challenges to the Library Project, our effort to make the knowledge contained in library books discoverable by everyone. We designed this project to bring as much value as possible to readers and copyright holders alike, while protecting the rights of authors and publishers under copyright law. But even for experts, copyright can be confusing. Here are some analyses from independent legal experts that help clarify what we're doing and why.

On the facts

Susan Crawford: "It's one of the best plans that Google has, and it needs to happen. No one is going to bring more books to the attention of the world–and help more authors–than Google."

Jonathan Band: "By limiting the search results to a few sentences before and after the search term, the program will not conflict with the normal exploitation of works nor unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of rights holders. To the contrary, it will often increase demand for copyrighted works." [PDF]

Cameron Stracher: "The lawsuit filed by publishers against Google over its plans to scan millions of books is both shortsighted and legally flawed. Google doesn't propose to scan books and then make them available for free. It intends to scan them in order to make them searchable over the Internet and available for purchase. It's hard to see how authors or publishers can lose. Millions of obscure(d) books get a second life, while publishers retain the ability to make money. So go ahead, make my day: Google me."

On fair use

Lawrence Lessig: "[Google Books] could be the most important contribution to the spread of knowledge since Jefferson dreamed of national libraries. It is an astonishing opportunity to revive our cultural past, and make it accessible."

Is Google Books Fair Use? 

Bruce Fein: "[Google Books is] a research marvel that honors intellectual property rights and the monetary incentive for creativity customarily granted by copyright. Civilization is a race between education and catastrophe, as H.G. Wells observed. The [Google Books project] gives education an edge. Copyright protection has always been subject to a "fair use" exception to promote the diffusion of knowledge. It is thought that any hypothetical dulling of a monetary incentive to create is outweighed by the compelling community interest in education. The [Google Books project] similarly retrieves snippets from books to promote scholarship and research without impairing book sales or the corresponding royalties to authors. It falls squarely within the purpose of fair use."

On what's at stake

Cindy Cohn: "I think that if the debate gets framed as a binary choice between authors and publishers on the one hand and Google on the other, it would be a shame. There is another interest here–those of 'us' who are trying to find the right thing to read."

Tim Wu: "Imagine how terrible maps would be if you had to negotiate with every landowner in the United States to publish the Rand McNally Road Atlas. Maps might still exist, but they'd be expensive and incomplete. Property owners might think they'd individually benefit, but collectively they would lose out–a classic collective action problem. There just wouldn't really be maps in the sense we think of today. The critical point is this: Just as maps do not compete with or replace property, neither do book searches replace books. Both are just tools for finding what is otherwise hard to find."

Ron Rotunda: "Book Search retrieves snippets from books while also serving an educational purpose - allowing scholars and readers in general to find more easily the wealth of published works. Google's Book Search will narrow the educational divide by giving every child with Web access the ability to search the collection of the greatest library online."

Resources for learning more

The fair use provisions in U.S. copyright law (17 USC 107)

Stanford Copyright & Fair Use Center

OITP Technology Policy Brief: The Google Library Project: The Copyright Debate [PDF]

Congressional Report Service: The Google Books Project: Is Online Indexing a Fair Use Under Copyright Law? [PDF]

Interested in learning more about copyright law? Check out some books on the subject in Google Books.