I’m sure many of us have fond memories of the venerable library card catalog: the musty smell, the tiny wooden drawers and their endless deck of equally tiny, yellowed cards on which someone laboriously typed the Dewey Decimal code, bibliographic information and a short, textual summary of a book. But ever since the opening scene in the 1984 classic “Ghostbusters,” library researchers have tirelessly sought to develop a way to catalog books in a way that isn’t susceptible to ruination by the drawer-emptying, cardthrowing tendencies of a ghost librarian.
In 2004, Google Inc. announced its solution. Google had entered into agreements with several major research libraries to scan the full text of millions of books in those libraries, to catalog the books electronically and allow users to run full-text keyword searches through those millions of books. However, the announcement troubled several authors and owners of copyright — should Google be permitted to make copies of their works, without permission? In 2005, The Authors Guild, Inc. and several individual authors filed suit against Google to challenge Google’s plan. In late 2013, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled in Google’s favor on summary judgment and held that Google’s actions were fair use. This article provides a summary of the issues involved, the reasoning behind the decision and the takeaways from the case.
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