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Searchable books database ruled fair use

NEW YORK – The creation of a full-text searchable database of millions of books is a fair use of copyrighted works, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday, saying it also is permissible to distribute the books in alternative forms to people with reading disabilities.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision came in a copyright infringement lawsuit brought by authors and several authors’ groups after several research universities agreed in 2004 to let Google Inc. electronically scan their books and then created a repository for more than 10 million books published over many centuries and written in numerous languages.

In a decision written by Circuit Judge Barrington Parker, the three-judge Manhattan panel said the creation of a full-text searchable database was a “quintessentially transformative use” of a copyrighted work, a legal principle supporting a finding that it was lawful to copy and store books electronically without the permission of authors and publishers.

“There is no evidence that the authors write with the purpose of enabling text searches of their books,” Parker wrote in a case widely watched within the publishing industry. He added that enabling the full-text search “adds to the original something new with a different purpose and a different character.”

He said it was important that the repository “does not allow users to view any portion of the books they are searching.” As a result, he added, it “does not add into circulation any new, human-readable copies of any books.” The 2nd Circuit also said a lower-court judge was wrong to suggest a copyright could be overcome if a book made an “invaluable contribution to the progress of science and cultivation of the arts.”


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