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A compelling argument against the Google Books ruling

Here’s a compelling piece that analyzes the recent Appellate Court decision in favor of the Google Book Project. The authors find that, contrary to the generally positive support from libraries for the outcome of the decision — the Court decided that Google’s book scanning amounted to a transformative act covered under Copyright law’s fair use provision — the decision in their opinion was a HUGE loss for libraries and public culture in general. I think that many librarians writing in favor of the decision did so with the thought that *because* libraries were “involved” as “partners” then it’s ipso facto fair use. But Yeo and Schiller point out the problems with cheering for the decision.

Their argument reminds me of the recent use of [eminent domain] — whereby a municipality has the legal right to “condemn” private property and put it to public use (like building a road) — not for public good but for private gain. See for example “A resurgence of eminent domain abuse” from the Washington Post in 2014.

Whatever you think about the Google decision, here’s a good piece of context to add to your thought processes.

Appellate Court Ruling For Google Books: Fair Use, or Anti-Democratic Preemption?. Shinjoung Yeo and Dan Schiller, Information Observatory. October 27, 2015.

Fair use is an exception in US copyright law which permits the use of copyrighted work without the permission of copyright owners. This provision has often been exercised by libraries and academic institutions as it allows for them to provide access to copyrighted materials for educational purposes; however, long before Google, the use of copyrighted works under fair use in libraries and academic institutions for educational purposes has been increasingly attacked by commercial publishers as the industry strove to tighten its control. The fair use exemption, as has been stated earlier, has been further weakened, as libraries move to a licensing- rather than purchasing model for their collections — a model in which fair use has no standing. On the surface, the court verdict on Google’s case vindicates an enlarged fair-use provision. However, it does so not on behalf of public culture or democratic accountability, but of a gigantic for-profit corporation. Its real effect is to align the law with a corporate scramble to reorganize and enlarge the information market.

Thus, this new verdict is far from a victory for the public; rather, it is a victory for digital capital and for the continuing takeover of public culture to serve proprietary commodification projects. As Google boasts, this is indeed likely to widen “access;” but only at the very steep price of tightening corporate control over information.[9]

Fair use is a right that should attach to persons — not to corporations. A just and equitable outcome for the public would have been for the Court to require Google to relinquish its digitized library collections to libraries, and to order libraries to take back their caretaker role in the system of information provision. The actual outcome cut in an antagonistic direction. While the Authors Guild vowed to take the case to the US Supreme Court, it is far from certain that the verdict will be reversed. This verdict, therefore, is not an occasion for joy, but for the mourning this latest blow against libraries’ place in the democratic provision of public culture.

via Appellate Court Ruling For Google Books: Fair Use, or Anti-Democratic Preemption? | Information Observatory.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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