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Communications of the ACM

Legally speaking

Mass Digitization as Fair Use

Mass Digitization as Fair Use, illustration

Credit: Matthew Hollister

Google has scanned 20 million books for its Google Book Search (GBS) project. In most countries of the world, this mass digitization would be deemed copyright infringement as to books not in the public domain. In the U.S., however, a doctrine known as fair use makes it possible to argue that scanning books to make an index and to provide snippets of their contents in response to search queries does not infringe copyrights.

The Authors Guild, a nonprofit organization representing approximately 8,500 professional authors, believes that Google's scanning of in-copyright books from the collections of research library partners is copyright infringement. In 2005, it brought a lawsuit to challenge this practice.


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