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Suit challenging Google Books’ digital library tossed out

AP

A federal judge handed Google Inc. a victory Thursday in a long-running legal battle, tossing out a lawsuit claiming the Internet giant is violating copyright laws by scanning books without the writers’ permission to create the world’s largest digital library.

The 28-page decision by U.S. District Judge Denny Chin in New York is the latest twist in a circuitous journey that began nine years ago when Google set out to make digital copies of all the books in the world.

The ambitious project prompted the Authors Guild to sue Google in a Manhattan federal court in 2005, claiming the company was not making “fair use” of copyright material by offering searchable snippets of works in its online library.

The lawsuit was seeking $750 for each of the more than 20 million copyright books that Google has already copied. Google estimated its damages could have surpassed $3 billion.

Chin’s ruling won’t necessarily close the book on the case. The Authors Guild plans to appeal, opening the next chapter in a legal saga that could ultimately land in the U.S. Supreme Court.

If the decision stands, Google’s Internet search engine will be in a better position to become an even deeper reservoir of human knowledge. As it expands its stockpile of digital books, Google’s search engine is likely to be seen as an even more indispensable resource.

Chin conceded Google might make money from its book-copying project, but concluded it is being done in a way that complies with intellectual property laws while enriching society.

“In my view, Google Books provides significant public benefits,” Chin wrote. “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.”

Paul Aiken, the executive director for the Authors Guild, maintains that Google is exploiting writers and vowed to appeal Chin’s decision.

Google’s current collection of more than 20 million books consists mostly of out-of-print titles. About 90 million to 100 million more books remain to be scanned, based on estimates that Google has made in the case.