News & Reactions: The Future of Google Books Post-Fair Use

On Thursday, November 14th, Google Inc. won a major court battle regarding its Google Books project. The federal district court in New York City ruled the Google Book project falls under the protection of fair use. Google, through collaborations with research libraries across the country, has digitized over twenty million books, making large portions of the books electronically and freely accessible.

  • U.S.D.C. Southern District of New York Judge Denny Chin’s decision is available from this case here.
  • The American Library Association lauds the decision here.
  • And the reaction of the Authors Guild can be found here.
  • Cheryl Beise of Wolters Kluwer’s Intellectual Property Law Daily (November 14, 2013) examines the four fair use factors of the decision here.

Included among those twenty million digitized titles, of course, are books with legal subjects: rare and ancient legal treatises, aged legislative materials, and superseded volumes are all available. Obscure titles covering differing technical subjects can be found as well, making, for example, a full-text search for an expert’s publications possible. Clearly, this will benefit law librarians, though accessibility of older, obscure legal materials have been available via commercial vendors for quite some time, and in a more organized manner.

LLMC-Digital (Law Library Microform Consortium) began its conversion from fiche-based materials to digital back in 2003. They now offer, in a categorically-organized fashion, a wealth of ancient federal and state-level legislative, executive and judicial materials. HeinOnline, too, begin its digitization efforts in the late 1990s, when the internet was in its infancy; HeinOnline now boasts libraries of various categorical content sets including a wealth of federal legislative materials as well as a robust collection of law journals.

The greatest difference between Google Books and similar commercial vendors concerns organization of content. Google Books’ content set, again, contains 20 million books, the organization of this material is clearly a problem. The commercial vendors are dealing with content sets that are smaller, more manageable, and contain like materials; they are able to organize through various classification systems; by state, by type (executive, legislative, judicial), by category, by date, etc. The user can search among smaller, categorically-defined content sets; the user can explore content via categorical browsing. Google Books has available categories on its landing page, but given the massive scope of its content set, the subjects have to remain very general; Google Books is essentially only navigable by full-text searching, which introduces a host of user-query-construction problems. Google’s approach to index and not catalog the internet proved to be correct, but Google Book’s sea of print materials may need a more commercial-vendor-honed organizational approach. Now that the legality of Google Books has been upheld, hopefully instituting clearer methods of organizing their vast content set will become prioritized.

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