Most New Jersey residents perform Internet searches every day, but few consider the legal implications of companies like Google essentially acting as informational gatekeepers. The California-based technology giant was sued in 2005 by the Authors Guild and three individual writers over the company’s practice of scanning books and including snippets of the scanned material, but the lawsuit’s decade long journey came to an end on April 18 when the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to add the case to its docket.
The lawsuit was filed in the wake of Google’s 2004 decision to create a huge database of books by scanning the contents of research libraries. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2013 after concluding that Google’s activities fell within the scope of the fair use doctrine. The authors disagreed, but their claims that the circuit court decision greatly expanded the concept of fair use failed to impress the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.
Fair use is a somewhat nebulous term, and judges generally look at four factors when determining if copyright infringement has taken place. Judges consider the nature of the work in question, how much of the work was taken, the impact that this could have on the potential market for the work and what the work taken was used for. Many observers were not surprised when Google prevailed and the nation’s highest court declined to hear the case, and some feel that the way has now been cleared for many other large digitization projects to proceed.
This case illustrates how complex intellectual property litigation can be and how long it can take for cases of this type to make their way through the courts. Attorneys may encourage their clients to proactively protect their trademarks, copyrights and patents by taking decisive action at the first signs of infringement.