Let the Robots Read! A Victory for Fair Use
A resounding judgement in the Google Books case means that the act of digitizing books is not in-and-of-itself infringing. In legal-speak, the judge ruled that digitizing books is “fair”. This is a big deal in that it allows machines, or robots, to read books. What someone does with the book after it is in digital form might break the law, but just getting it in digital form is not. This is helpful to the Internet Archive’s book project, digital libraries in general, and the public at large.
How did we get here? There were book scanning projects in the early 2000′s, including the Million Books Project and Project Gutenberg (both of which Internet Archive was involved in), but many of these did not venture beyond out-of-copyright books. Google boldly started scanning all books, but were sued by the Authors Guild and AAP. The proposed a settlement that would have created a monopoly and changed copyright law, and was rejected by Judge Chin. The Internet Archive was happy with this decision because we did not want to see central control of all out-of-print works.
At this point, without a settlement the case proceeded to find out if Google’s digitizing of in-copyright works and showing “snippets” of pages infringes on the monopoly rights bestowed on publishers and authors.
Judge Chin soundly ruled that what Google was not infringing. The judgement is quite readable, and is recommended. The Author’s Guild has said they will appeal.
What does this mean? It means that having machines read books is allowable under United States law. This is an important because more and more research is being done with the assistance of computers. If computers could not be used to help in research, then people would be back to writing quotations on note cards or typing in short sections into their computers. Clearly this does not make sense, and, thankfully Judge Chin thought so too.
The Internet Archive has been digitizing modern books for many years for the blind and dyslexic, but also to aid in lending books to the public. This decision will not directly effect what the Internet Archive is doing, but puts some possible legal issues on more solid ground.
Let the robots read! A clear victory for fair use.