Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit unanimously found that the Google Books project, under which Google digitized, indexed, and permits users to search and view snippets of millions of printed books, constitutes a fair use.

The following can be attributed to Raza Panjwani, Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge:

“The circuit court’s decision is a victory for the public. Judge Leval stated in no uncertain terms that ‘the ultimate goal of copyright is to expand public knowledge and understanding,’ and the Google Books project does precisely that. Researchers can now spend seconds, not lifetimes, searching through libraries across the world to identify relevant books. If copyright law is truly intended ‘to promote the progress of science and the useful arts,’ then this is precisely the kind of access-enhancing use it should permit.

“The opinion also puts to rest two pervasive misconceptions about copyright law: that digitizing or copying an entire work is always a violation of the law regardless of purpose, and that the mere existence of a licensing market eliminates the possibility of a fair use.

“The plaintiffs emphasized over and over that Google digitally copied entire books. However, the Court made clear that what matters for copyright purposes is what human users see, and not what a search algorithm can access.

“The tragedy is that ten years and countless dollars have been spent on lawsuits, instead of on expanding or establishing new programs like Google Books. With this decision, we will hopefully see a renewal of efforts to digitize and open up access to culture and knowledge.”