Friday, November 15, 2013

Book search wins important copyright fair use case in New York

The Book Search by Google won a major case in the southern District of New York as Judge Denny Chin ruled in favor of Google Books, to the effect that book search fell within fair use, not requiring copyright permission. Timothy B. Lee has a story today on the Switch Blog of the Washington Post here.
Securing permissions for search displays would have been logistically impractical, and in many cases the original copyright owners aren’t known, although companies could be set up to find them.
More significant is that the “copyright owner’s” case was seen as facetious.  In general, consumers are very unlikely to try to “reconstruct” a book from search results without paying for it.  In fact, I generally place a lot of my non-fiction book contents online anyway.  I realize it’s possible to load chapters of my books free onto mobile devices (tablets or phones, not Kindles and Nooks) and read them.  Actually, I just tried my pdf’s from “” and couldn’t get them to load on my Droid phone, but they do load fine on the iPad.  I’ll have to check into why they didn’t work on the phone.  I do trust that someone who really wants the book will pay for it with normal e-commerce channels.  Non-fiction policy writing doesn’t work the same way as entertainment fiction; one shoe does not fit all feet, including Hobbits’. 
There’s another issue:  search engine placement.  Since about 2002 or so, most books published by on-demand companies do get indexed, and there is no opportunity to suppress a search result as there would be with a private online PDF or HTML file that the author maintains himself, to answer some unusual sensitivity (and this happened maybe three times in fifteen years, in each case because of unusual, non-repeatable circumstances.  So online reputation could become a subordinate issue here. 

Update: Later today, I found that the PDF's on my phone had indeed downloaded, and could be opened with the phone's own reader.  Rather inconvenient. 

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