Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

c.2013 New York Times News Service

After eight years and countless delays, a federal judge Thursday dismissed a lawsuit by authors against Google, saying that the technology giant’s long-running digital book-scanning project provided “significant public benefits.”

“It advances the progress of the arts and sciences, while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals, and without adversely impacting the rights of copyright holders,” Judge Denny Chin, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, said in his ruling on Google Books. “It preserves books, in particular out-of-print and old books that have been forgotten in the bowels of libraries, and it gives them new life. It facilitates access to books for print-disabled and remote or underserved populations. It generates new audiences and creates new sources of income for authors and publishers. Indeed, all society benefits.”

The lawsuit dates to 2005, when groups representing authors and publishers sued Google for scanning print copies of books in huge numbers. Years later, they agreed to a $125 million settlement, but Chin rejected the settlement in 2011, throwing the case into limbo.

The publishers’ group later split from the authors and reached its own agreement with Google that was not subject to court approval.

On Thursday, Google appeared to be jubilant with the judge’s decision.

“This has been a long road and we are absolutely delighted with today’s judgment,” the company said in a statement. “As we have long said, Google Books is in compliance with copyright law and acts like a card catalog for the digital age — giving users the ability to find books to buy or borrow.”

Paul Aiken, the executive director of the Authors Guild, said in an interview that the result was “obviously disappointing.”

“We do expect to appeal this result, and we disagree with the decision,” Aiken said. “Google created unauthorized digital versions of most of the world’s copyright-protected books — certainly most of the valuable copyright-protected books in the world. This extends far beyond just U.S. authors.”

James Grimmelmann, a professor of law at the University of Maryland who has followed the case closely, called the ruling “a win for Google and a big win for libraries and researchers.”

The judge “argues that authors didn’t lose much, because it’s not like they were losing sales to Google Books,” Grimmelmann said. “The Authors Guild, on the other hand, loses a lot of face from this.”

So much time has passed since the lawsuit was originally filed, Grimmelmann said, that the issue of digital scanning has diminished in importance.

“By taking eight years from the lawsuit to resolve this, book scanning has gone from an exciting novelty to part of the background of the industry,” he said. “This has been going on for so long that it’s just part of the business now. And you’re seeing how many exciting new uses that can come out of it.”