A woman studies at the Cecil H. Green Library on the Stanford University Campus in 2004. Libraries at Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan, the New York Public Library, and the University of Oxford were the first to participate in Google’s books digitization project. (credit: Getty Images)

It’s legal to scan books—even if you don’t own the copyright—the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit held today.
The Authors’ Guild sued Google, saying that serving up search results from scanned books infringes on publishers’ copyrights, even though the search giant shows only restricted snippets of the work. The authors’ group said that Google’s book search isn’t transformative, that the snippets provide an illegal free substitute for their work, and that Google Books infringes their “derivative rights” in revenue they could gain from a “licensed search” market.
In its opinion (PDF), a three-judge panel rejected all of the Authors’ Guild claims in a decision that will broaden the scope of fair use in the digital age. The immediate effect means that Google Books won’t have to close up shop or ask book publishers for permission to scan. In the long run, the ruling could inspire other large-scale digitization projects.
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