Court: Book Scanning Is Obviously Fair Use

from the not-even-close dept

Well, well. I had a post all written up that I was going to publish today about how the settling of the Publishers lawsuit against Google over book scanning had one downside -- that we didn't get a full court ruling on the question of whether or not the book scanning project constituted fair use. I have to now scrap that post, because before I had a chance to finish it off, the judge in a similar/related case -- filed by the Authors Guild against HathiTrust, a consortium of universities trying to digitize their libraries -- ruled that the book scanning effort was obviously fair use. Judge Harold Baer is pretty explicit that this is absolutely fair use when you look at the details:
Although I recognize that the facts here may on some levels be without precedent, I am convinced that they fall safely within the protection of fair use such that there is no genuine issue of material fact. I cannot imagine a definition of fair use that would not encompass the transformative uses made by Defendants’ MDP and would require that I terminate this invaluable contribution to the progress of science and cultivation of the arts that at the same time effectuates the ideals espoused by the ADA.
In other words, when you look at this project, it should be obvious that it's advancing the public good in many ways, and thus, promoting the progress. The judge relies heavily on one of my favorite fair use cases that I often use to debunk false ideas that some people have about fair use. Those who don't know the law, often insist that there can be no fair use if either (a) the entire work is used or (b) it's used in a commercial setting. Yet, as the Bill Graham Archives v. Dorling Kindersley case showed, neither point needs to be true (even if they may weigh on how the fair use factors are considered). In this case, even if there were commercial elements and the entire works were "used" in that they were scanned, the court said that this use was obviously transformational in a useful manner.
A transformative use may be one that actually changes the original work. However, a transformative use can also be one that serves an entirely different purpose.... The use to which the works in the HDL are put is transformative because the copies serve an entirely different purpose than the original works: the purpose is superior search capabilities rather than actual access to copyrighted material. The search capabilities of the HDL have already given rise to new methods of academic inquiry such as text mining
The judge also, thankfully, noted that just because HathiTrust didn't "add anything new" to the work itself "misses the point" because each scan "serves a different function than the original work."

The judge also rejected the whole claim that the scanning "impacts the market" for the works -- which is the other key factor. While some like to pretend that any activity "impacts the market" because any use limits the possibility of a license, the court (thankfully) recognizes that such an argument is ridiculously broad and makes no sense. Furthermore, he notes that the plaintiffs have to show real harm is likely, and they completely failed to do so here.

Of course, the details in the Google book scanning suit are somewhat different -- in that the use is more clearly commercial, and a greater amount of the book is made available. However, as James Grimmelmann notes, the "near complete victory" for HathiTrust with this ruling does not bode well for the Authors Guild case against Google, and increases the likelihood of an out of court settlement.

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  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
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    montira, 11 Oct 2012 @ 10:12am

    Court: Book Scanning Is Obviously Fair Use

    Thank you for information

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