| NEW YORK, Sept 23
NEW YORK, Sept 23 A federal judge on Monday
appeared to favor Google Inc's legal defense of its
digital books project, which could imperil efforts by authors
seeking to block it.
Google, based in Mountain View, California, has scanned more
than 20 million books since its 2004 agreement with libraries
worldwide to digitize books.
The Authors Guild and groups representing photographers and
graphic artists say the project amounts to massive copyright
Google argues the practice constitutes fair use, an
exception under U.S. copyright law, because it only provides
portions of the works online.
At a hearing in U.S. district court in New York on Monday,
Judge Denny Chin said the question of fair use relies in part on
whether the project "is a benefit to society."
Chin then rattled off several examples of how Google's
project has helped people find information, including his own
"Aren't these transformative uses, and don't they benefit
society?" asked Chin.
Edward Rosenthal, a lawyer representing the authors, said
the project, "may benefit society in some instances," but it
should be up to the copyright holder whether or not the work is
Further, the act of copying the books in and of itself
violates the law, and copyright holders should at least be
compensated, said Rosenthal, who called Google, "a copy shop for
the 21st Century."
Chin countered by noting examples of people buying books
after finding information about them through Google, suggesting
the project can boost sales.
The authors have also argued that people could compile
entire works for free by using various search terms.
Daralyn Durie, a lawyer for Google, said this is
theoretically possible, but "extremely unlikely to happen," a
sentiment Chin seemed to endorse.
"Is this a real concern?" Chin asked.
Chin also dismissed a suggestion from Rosenthal that the
U.S. Congress should decide the issue.
"Does anything get done in Congress these days?" Chin said.
"What are you suggesting? That I don't decide ... and wait for
Chin's criticism of the plaintiffs' arguments echoed that of
a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals,
which appeared to be skeptical of the lawsuit in July.
Google's project could have "enormous value for our
culture," Circuit Judge Barrington Parker said in July. "This is
something that has never happened in the history of mankind."
The 2nd Circuit ruled that Chin was premature in certifying
the authors as a class without first deciding if the fair use
defense under U.S. copyright law allowed Google to display
snippets of books and returned the case to Chin.
Chin, who became an appeals court judge in the 2nd Circuit
in 2010, but who retained jurisdiction over the case against
Google at the district court level, did not rule on the question
of fair use at Monday's hearing.
The case is Authors Guild Inc et al v. Google Inc, U.S.
District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 06-cv-08136