Meera Nair

Posts Tagged ‘Google Books’

no surprise

In Posts on October 29, 2015 at 7:11 pm

Two weeks ago we received the unremarkable news that Google Books had prevailed at the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; that the copying of entire books in order to provide information about the books, including displaying snippets of content, was fair use. I say “unremarkable” as the outcome was expected. The Second Circuit was the appellate court that sent this dispute back to a district court expressly because the district court had not considered fair use. After due consideration, in November 2013 the district court declared that Google Books’ operations fell within fair use. That triggered an appeal from the Authors Guild (despite the fact that the appeal would be heard by the same Second Circuit).

The present decision of the Second Circuit was penned by Judge Pierre Leval, who might be best known as the founding father of the relevance of “transformative” in American fair use dialogue. It should not surprise anyone that Leval emphasized the expanded utility wrought by Google Books. Placing the decision firmly upon the American constitutional foundation for copyright, namely that the system of copyright must “promote the progress of science and the useful arts,” Leval writes: “the purpose of Google’s copying of the original copyrighted books is to make available significant information about those books, permitting a searcher to identify those that contain a word or term of interest, as well as those that do not include reference to it (p.22, emphasis in original).”

Judge Leval carries out the four-factor analysis, as per statutory custom in the United States. Mike Masick (Techdirt) provides detailed coverage of the analysis, noting in particular that the United States has yet another clear indication that commerciality does not impede fair use and that the use of bogey man arguments offered without any evidence (such as the possibility that would-be hackers could obtain the complete scans of the books) have no place in a serious consideration of law. Further analysis and coverage of this matter by Patricia Aufderheide (Center for Media and Social Impact), Brandon Butler (American University) and Kevin Smith (Duke University) all make for very good reading.

From a Canadian perspective the decision is a reminder that the United States’ culture of fair use is distinct from our culture of fair dealing. American fair use history was marked by an unfortunate period of time where commerciality and market impact became the touchstones upon which fair use was determined. Consequently, what was considered world-wide as the best exception, by virtue of flexible language that could accommodate futures unknown, lay inert in the United States. It has taken the country decades to restore fair use as a meaningful exception within the system of copyright, and establish that fair use is not simply a means to address market failure.

(Perhaps it was through observing this unfortunate path, that our Supreme Court took pains to safeguard Canada’s development of fair dealing with a strict reminder that the presence of licensing was not sufficient to deny fair dealing nor was market impact the most important factor of analysis.)

In 2010, I dealt with this portion of American fair use history in some detail. In “Fair Dealing at a Crossroads,” From Radical Extremism to Balanced Copyright (ed. Michael Geist), I wrote:

The prominence of commerciality, through the first and fourth factors, was set in the 1984 Sony decision, even though that action was inconsis­tent with the statutory language of the law. Although the United States’ Supreme Court sought to correct its mistakes, with some success in 1994, lower courts continued to place undue emphasis upon commerciality (p. 92, citations omitted).

The success of 1994 was Campbell v. Acuff Rose Music, Inc, a fair use dispute over a commercially released parody. Favoring fair use, the American Supreme Court of the day sought a way to blunt the emphasis upon commerciality and gave rise to the importance of “transformative” as “… altering the original with new expression, meaning, or message. The more transformative the new work, the less will be the significance of other factors, like commercialism … .” Their reasoning drew from the work of Judge Leval.

Since 1994, American courts have systematically returned to the language around “transformative,” giving fair use a reasonable ambit of application and chance of success, as befitting a measure that has been referred to as providing “breathing space within the confines of copyright.” But while the language of “transformative” is a key feature of American dialogue, Canadians are fortunate not to be so reliant on terminology.

Our leading decisions concerning fair dealing focused upon exact reproduction of works (whole or in part) often with the same purpose that the works were intended for at their inception. By virtue of a contextual analysis, our Supreme Court declared those circumstances as giving rise to fair dealing. True, the reasoning employed would meld along the lines of expanded utility but we need not frame our reasoning to match a particular phrase. Our Supreme Court asks us to examine uses of copyrighted work broadly, with a scope of inquiry tailored to the situation at hand. Fair dealing rests upon the entirety of that analysis.

July 1 tidbits

In Posts on July 5, 2013 at 6:52 am

(Yes, I know it is July 5. And many boxes are yet to be unpacked.)

Building a better understanding of fairness

Posted to InfoJustice.org, Jonathan Band and Deborah Goldman remind us that there is a sizeable body of case law concerning fair dealing and fair use for all to draw on. They write: “One of the arguments used by rights holders opposed to the adoption of open-ended fair use or fair dealing provisions outside of the United States is that those jurisdictions would lack a body of case law to guide judges, and it would take decades for such a body of case law to develop.” Band and Goldman contradict with a listing of the number of opinions available through online databases in many countries. To skeptics who scoff at the idea of global opinion gathering, I offer the reminder that even in the United States (the quantitative leader in case law), even when precedent seems to exist, a shift in context requires renewed thought. (The recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Kirtsaeng v. Wiley stands out in this regard; my three-part coverage begins here.) It is unwise to limit possibilities solely by what exists as domestic precedent when more information is at hand.

That said, each country may very well apply its own cultural flavour and interpretation in its rulings. Law is as much a reflection of culture as art, music, language, food, etc. Each country has a history that shapes its own future. It is to everyone’s advantage to investigate how others confront the issue of fairness and then use the best that knowledge has to offer towards an independent decision. Canada’s progression to flexible, fair dealing has been a series of modest steps spanning a decade. (Some might say it is quintessentially Canadian). Moreover, when our Supreme Court passed its famed CCH Canadian decision, the court emulated some of the American framework for fair use but also saw fit to bring in safeguards to protect the viability of fair dealing against the then-American tendency to deny fair use when commercial considerations existed. (Detailed coverage of CCH Canadian coupled with American events can be found in my last two publications.)

In essence, a wider exploration only facilitates the understanding of fairness.

Better prospects ahead for Google Books

Also on July 1, the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeal expanded the scope of fairness by extending it to the proceedings itself. In the ongoing saga of Authors Guild et al v. Google Inc, the case was returned to the district court with an instruction: do the fair use analysis.

Google has long argued that its practice of scanning books and making limited portions available online is fair use.  At its last court room appearance in May 2013, Google appealed a district court decision of June 2012 which had stipulated that the Authors Guild could carry the case as a class action suit.  In their ruling on July 1, Circuit Judges Pierre Leval, Jose Cabranes and Barrington Parker stated:

[Google intends] to assert a “fair use defense”, which might moot the litigation. Google also claims that plaintiffs are unable to “fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class,” because many members of the class, perhaps even a majority, benefit from the Library Project and oppose plaintiffs efforts.  … Putting aside the merits of Google’s claim that plaintiffs are not representative of the certified class—an argument which, in our view, may carry some force—we believe that the resolution of Google’s fair use defense in the first instance will necessarily inform and perhaps moot our analysis of many class certification issues…

Kevin Smith, writing for Duke University, explains how vital it is that the class action status be set aside:

The process of litigating a class action is so complex and expensive that class action certification is often a signal to the defendant to settle the case.  The result is that, if a class is certified, there is much less chance that a full determination about fair use will ever be made … . It would be very unfortunate if the Google case never got to that stage.  By fighting off the class certification, Google has won for itself a better opportunity to make that argument.  And the precedent set by this decision is important, since it tells trial courts to consider fair use before they make the potentially destructive decision about class certification.  In many cases, and the Second Circuit suggests that this may be one of them, the complexity and cost of a class action might be entirely avoided because fair use would lead to a lawsuit being dismissed before it got that far.

[Smith favourably compares Google Books to HathiTrust and provides more information about the role of the Authors Guild. It is especially helpful for those of us unfamiliar with the players in the United States.]

With the road ahead cleared to argue the case on the merits and applicability of fair use, this case is poised as a definitive force in fair use dialogue. Mike Masnick’s coverage for Techdirt (the July 1 ruling, preceded by the May 8 oral arguments) encourage optimism.

As an aside, copyright enthusiasts may have honed in on the name “Leval.” Judge Leval is the author of the famed “Towards a Fair Use Standard” written in 1990 for Harvard Law Review. A telling point in his paper is:

I believe the answer to the question of justification turns primarily on whether, and to what extent, the challenged use is transformative. The use must be productive and must employ the quoted matter in a different manner or for a different purpose from the original.

While fair use continues to mature in its application, Leval offers a comfortable starting point for any analysis of fair use/fair dealing.

A befitting release date

Sara Bannerman announced the publication of her book The Struggle for Canadian Copyright. The paperback version was released on  July 1 – Canada Day – a befitting date. Congratulations Sara!