Court Rules for Google Books, Cites Samuelson Clinic Brief

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By Susan Gluss

United States Court of Appeals Judge Denny Chin has found that Google Book Search—a project to digitize millions of books from major libraries across the country—constitutes fair use under U.S. copyright law. In his decision, he cites a brief submitted by Berkeley Law’s Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic written on behalf of dozens of law and humanities scholars.

Google launched its book search project more than a decade ago. In a nutshell: it digitizes books, gives a copy of the digital versions back to the libraries, and creates a fully searchable index of the book text. But book authors claimed copyright infringement, ensnarling the project in litigation for years.

In Judge Chin’s decision in favor of Google (Authors Guild, Inc. v. Google Inc., S.D.N.Y., No. 05 Civ. 8136 (DC), 11/14/13), he quotes extensively from the clinic’s 2012 brief. Specifically, he notes the importance of scholarly “text mining,” which allows scholars to do novel research about everything from United States history to the evolution of technological change in society.

“Google Books permits humanities scholars to analyze massive amounts of data . . . the literary record created by a collection of tens of millions of books,” Chin wrote. “Researchers can examine word frequencies, syntactic patterns, and thematic markers to consider how literary style has changed over time."

The ability to determine how often different words or phrases appear in books at different times "can provide insights about fields as diverse as lexicography, the evolution of grammar, collective memory, the adoption of technology, the pursuit of fame, censorship, and historical epidemiology,” he added.

Prof. Pamela

Distinguished Professor of Law Pamela Samuelson, who has argued tirelessly for universal digital libraries that “would vastly expand the scope of research and education worldwide,” applauded Judge Chin’s ruling.

“By recognizing that Google Book Search has created substantial societal value in enabling greater access to the knowledge embodied in books—a value our brief highlighted—Judge Chin has given us a fair use ruling that balances the interests of the public and of rights holders that will have important implications for digital libraries and other efforts to enhance public access to knowledge,” she wrote in an email.

Jennifer Urban
Prof. Jennifer

The Samuelson Clinic brief was co-authored by Jason Schultz and Matthew Sag, along with clinic Director Jennifer Urban and former fellow Babak Siavoshy.

"The Clinic was able to help explain how digitized texts enable truly novel forms of research and societal understanding,” Urban wrote in an email. “Humanities scholars now have searchable access to the literary record found in tens of millions of books, which allows them to find answers to questions they could literally never ask before. This is a terrific increase in knowledge."

Urban said Chin’s decision underscores the substantial benefits to society from book digitization. “These types of socially beneficial uses are precisely the types of uses that copyright is meant to support through the fair use doctrine,” she said.