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Copyright Law: the Authors Guild vs Google


The modern digitalized society provides multiple benefits for people because of the accessibility of information. At the same time, it also generates many concerns about the protection of data and copyright issues. The fact is that the rapid development of the Internet and emergence various databases containing thousands of works introduced significant problems to copyright holders. The fact is that the free distribution of texts can deprive them of the expected income.

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The existing copyright law is expected to protect authors from losses mentioned above and provide punishment for offenders. However, the complexity of relations in digitalized society and problematic regulation results in the emergence of many conflicts.

For instance, the American concept of fair use can today be applied to any purposes; it means that the existing scope of copyright limitations and exceptions can fail to suffice the current copyright holders’ demands (Katz, 2013). That is why there is a ground for the emergence of conflicts presupposing the unethical behavior and illegal use of texts. Thus, the given paper is devoted to the investigation of the case Google vs. Authors Guild and ethical problems associated with it.


The fact is that the 21st century can be characterized by numerous debates about the future of traditional data storage devices and books that could also be related to this category. The spread of electronic book readers and the appearance of digital versions of all texts triggered a vigorous discussion about how this sphere will evolve. The situation is also complicated by the fact that along with the decreased popularity of conventional books numerous legal and ethical concerns emerged (Baker, 2014).

The problem can be partially solved by the introduction of protection to books that are guarded by the law of copyright; however, these measures do not suffice authors, and they experience significant losses (Sookman, 2014).

These include financial issues because of the decreased number of texts’ sales, which are the main source of income for copyright holders. Moreover, the authors do not have the motivation to work because of the high probability of illegal use of their works and lack of money to support their creativity. One of the most popular platforms of this sort Google also provides access to a wide collection of works to its users. For this reason, it faced a wave of dissatisfaction and numerous claims from the Authors Guild.

The Authors Guild v. Google

This conflict can be described as a copyright case opened in the USA. The main parties to the conflict are Google and the Authors Guild. The first actor insisted on the importance of the development of an online database providing access to a significant number of books to users regarding the fair use concept. However, the Authors Guild is against it because of the lack of legal protection to texts and impairment of copyright holders’ interests.

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At the same time, the provision of access to books’ summaries, selected chapters, and other content is a direct threat to the development of the whole industry. That is why during the court the Authors Guild introduced appeals related to Google’s infringement of the basic copyright rules while creating, developing, and supporting their project Google Book Search (Rasenberger & Besek, n.d). The complainant stated that this database caused substantial harm to many authors whose books were included in its archives. First, the corporation made a number of texts available for free which deprived authors of incomes; second, Google did not pay license fees which also does not benefit creators (Rasenberger & Besek, n.d.).

However, the given lawsuit was dismissed because of the no signs of critical violations (Rasenberger & Besek, n.d.). In accordance with the decree of the court, Google Books as the platform that provides access to various sources meets all requirements for fair use (Rasenberger & Besek, n.d.). Fair use is the idea presupposing the reproduction of the copyrighted material without special permission or additional payments (Sookman, 2014). This decision triggered a wave of discussions and new appeals to the Second Circuit, and the US Supreme court. However, the lower courts’ decision were not changed (Liptak & Alter, 2016). Google Books was considered an online database that did not violate existing copyright laws and works within the existing legal framework.

Fair Use

This case illustrates a number of ethical issues. Adheres of the Authors Guild appeal to the concept of fair use which turns out to be insufficient to protect creators’ rights. In general, fair use can be determined as a specific doctrine peculiar to the law of the USA (Mangal, 2016). It provides the right to use copyrighted content without permission of the copyright holder (Sookman, 2014). This right is limited by various regulations stating that only some portions of materials can be used (Sookman, 2014).

The main purpose for the introduction of this law is to balance the current interests of authors or copyrights holders with the public and users’ interest in the free distribution and use of various works (Mangal, 2016). The primary point of concern of these parties is the generation of constant income from using their texts in different ways; it includes sales, use by the third parties, and copying (Mangal, 2016). At the same time creators are interested in the popularization of their works among the target audience (Mangal, 2016).

Fair use is also introduced to promote the development of students’ science, research, and other fields. In accordance with the dominant idea, the given approach is expected to cultivate a new society that benefits from the use of books. However, the initial purpose of copyright law is also to cultivate the evolution of useful arts by protecting original ideas and their authors’ right to benefit from their creation (Aufderheide & Jaszi, 2018). In such a way, being similar in their origins, fair use and copyright law are two sides of the same coin that protect different values.

However, this belief is opposed by another perspective on the problem stating that the practice of fair use is not fair. The limited utilization of materials protected by copyright poses a threat to holders (Aufderheide & Jaszi, 2018). Instead of buying the whole source, individuals can collect the needed information from the provided piece. New generation search engines create a set of new problems such as the increased accessibility of texts, the emergence of the ability to use them not entering the database, and the appearance of multiple websites providing protected content not having any rights for these actions (Gilder, 2018).

Moreover, information can be shared with other people using the Internet or data storing devices. In such a way, the doctrine undermines the existing balance and gives rise to multiple ethical issues. For instance, the publishing industry has numerous claims for Google as it includes snippets of copyrighted works and short summaries that can be used by learners and other individuals without buying the source (The Authors Guild, n.d.).

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Regardless of the legality of this act, these actions cause substantial damage to the industry, copyright holders, and authors. From another perspective, the situation is analogous to movie trailers at YouTube that provide some information about films; however, viewers still watch them in cinemas. The only thing these videos do is helping to determine the quality of content and whether it is worth watching. Google Books acts in a similar way by helping consumers to select an appropriate source.

Google’s Use of Texts

Google corporation does not agree with this perspective and does not want to accept claims from various agents. First of all, the company states that all measures to provide the texts only of works that can be found in the public domain are introduced (Johns & Huthwaite, 2016). It means that full copies of protected sources are not offered to users for free, and they should pay for them. Second, only summaries of books that remain under the copyright protection and that can be found online are provided to users who search a particular source. It helps the company not to violate the terms of the existing copyright laws and act regarding the fair use concept.

Third, the company guarantees the improved defense for books that should be bought by consumers to ensure that authors will have their compensation. It means that if an individual wants the copy of a book, a link to a site where it can be legally bought will be provided. Otherwise, only previews are available. A set of these measures is expected to minimize the damage done to copyright laws and ensures that no serious violations will emerge.


Nevertheless, this approach is often criticized by authors and copyright holders. They state that the company does not have the right to copy full texts of all books that are protected by the law and save them (Hobb, 2010).

The utilized method of storing information violates the existing law and contributes to the appearance of new problems in the sphere. In such a way, there are multiple claims regarding the legitimacy of Google’s perspective on fair use. At the same time, there are also ethical issues related to the respect of intellectual property and rewards that should be provided to authors if their works are used by the third parties (The Authors Guild, n.d.). Responding to these multiple claims, the corporation introduced its own perspective on the discussed issue.

Settlement Agreement

The fact is that creating the basis for a new project, Google engaged in a so-called settlement agreement. It was offered on October 28. 2008 and presupposed the $125 million that should be paid to all rights-holders whose books would be scanned and used in the new database (Band, 2009). Additionally, authors were able to introduce a claim about their books being used by Google and receive about $ 60 per work (Band, 2009).

At the same time, copyright holders were supposed to receive 63% of all advertising used by the company (Samuelson, n.d.). The given agreement had to be approved by the court as it presupposed some rewards to authors, along with the opportunity to utilize the basic assumptions of the fair use doctrine and provide users with the needed resource (Band, 2009). In other words, the deal can be considered Google’s attempt to find the most appropriate variant to scan books’ texts and use them in its new project.

Analyzing this situation, it is critical to say that little has changed for Google and its project. The basic idea of GBS is to provide users with sources they might need for various purposes. For this reason, the existence of millions of copies that can be offered to viewers makes the existing database one of the most potent tools for research and study. It will benefit students and young researchers working in various spheres by providing them access to needed materials. At the same time, authors of utilized ideas can also be rewarded as they will be paid for the full texts if they are needed. In such a way, this approach helps to balance creators’ rights and demand for books.

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Additionally, the big collection of works contributes to the continuous increase in the popularity of this platform and its further development. Google does not provide access to full texts because of the failure of the agreement. Instead, there are multiple previews, snippets, and summaries that help to understand the main themes discussed in particular texts and make certain conclusions. This pieces of data are enough to determine the quality of the source, evaluate its content, and the ability to contribute to the development of a particular research project.

Benefits to the Public

Thus, as it has already been stated, there are two different perspectives on this project. The positive one considers Google Book Search a potent tool that guarantees multiple benefits to the public. First of all, it provides a powerful stimulus for the development of the sphere of education (Johns & Huthwaite, 2016). Millions of users from all regions of the world who have access to the Internet acquire the opportunity to find books the need for study.

It significantly improves their academic achievements and contributes to the growing interest to some sources that previously were disregarded. There is a phenomenon of a long tail which means that some sources can be popularized by launching works with a similar theme to a popular one; readers will read deep into the catalog of recommendations and discover new titles devoted to the same problem they can read (Anderson, 2004). The given marketing model becomes an effective tool to promote various goods regarding the modern digitalized environment.

Moreover, the sphere of science also benefits from the development of Google Book Search as many students working on their research projects acquire the convenient, effective, and simple tool that guarantees successful search and improves outcomes. In such a way, education and science become the public domains that enjoy the appearance of GBS and depend on its further evolution.

Secondly, the increased popularity of Google Books simulates the growth of interest in reading. Contrary to numerous assumptions stating the development of this database will undermine the basis of copyright laws and deprive authors of the opportunity to earn money, statistics show that about half of the users prefer to review the book using Google before buying it (Johns & Huthwaite, 2016).

Surprisingly, but the platform contributes to the increase in the demand on books that can be considered credible sources of information and interest readers by the facts that they provide. It can be taken as a significant benefit for the public as it cultivates the rise of reading culture and, at the same time, helps to generate profit for authors and copyright holders whose texts are included in the database (“Summaries of fair use cases,” n.d.). In such a way, Google Book Search becomes an important part of the cycle of creation and distribution of original texts and their further use.

Ethical Aspects to support Authors

However, along with these benefits, there is another perspective on the problem stating that Google violates basic authors rights and creates the basis for the emergence of multiple ethical issues. First of all, as it is outlined in the Authors Guild’s claim, the right to copy texts that can be found in the database should be bought from copyright holders. Otherwise, it can be considered a fraud and a rude violation of their basic rights (Hartman, DesJardins, & MacDonald, 2017). In such a way, a significant ethical dilemma emerges. The Authors Guild emphasizes the fact that as any individual, authors and copyright holders should be rewarded for their activities and work; however, Google minimizes chances to generate benefits by selling books as they are already available at their database.

Another ethical argument supporting the rights of authors is that the introduction of GBS and its approach to the practice of fair use creates the precedent that can be used by other companies or corporations to make new services that violate the rights of publishers and copyright holders. The adherers of this idea emphasize the fact that Google’s decision to create this online library triggered revolutionary changes in the world of books.

At the same time, the fact that the court considers these actions legal can serve as the justification of these actions and their promotion in the future. In such a way, authors lose their motivation to work and create new texts as they will be placed in Google Books and used by individuals from various regions (The Authors Guild, n.d.). However, the given statement can be considered too pessimistic and subjective. The primary driver of creativity is the inspiration as it makes individuals to create their works or elaborate new ideas. In such a way, appropriate levels of motivation will remain.


Altogether, the case Google v. Authors guild gave rise to numerous debates about the concept of fair use and ethical character of the corporation’s actions. Regardless of the fact that the court did not find violations of the copyright law, there are still numerous claims to GBS as it copies texts without the authors’ permission. However, Google company emphasizes the fact that only previews are provided to users.

Additionally, the company outlines multiple benefits associated with the development of the database such as new opportunities for studying, a powerful stimulus for the development of science, and growing interest for books that were previously disregarded. Despite these facts, there are still many problems with the ethical character of this approach as authors’ rights can be ignored which means the decrease in their motivation levels and the collapse of the sphere.


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