Google Books Search Function is a Fair Use of Books, Second Circuit Holds

Google Books is an online service that allows users to search for specific words in over 20 million books and view short excerpts from those books without the author’s permission. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held on October 16 that this search function is protected under the doctrine of fair use, affirming the 2013 district court decision in Authors Guild v. Google, Inc.

The Second Circuit applied the four-factor test in Section 107 of the Copyright Act to reach its fair use ruling. First, the court found that making a digital copy of a book for search purposes is “highly transformative,” and that the search function makes information about books available without providing a substitute for the books themselves. The court also said that while Google copied entire books, since the search function only revealed “snippets” of the books to users, the amount and substantiality of the portion taken is small. The court found that Google Books does not affect the potential market for books in a significant way.

Copyright experts say this is a landmark decision, which could pave the way for similar digitization projects in the future. Blake Brittain, 2d Cir. Affirms Google Books Ruling; Text Search and Snippet View Allowed, MEDIA LAW REPORTER (Oct. 22, 2015),