Posts Tagged: transformative works

Google vs. Authors Guild

The verdict is in in the case between the Authors Guild and Google regarding copyright infringement.

In his verdict, judge Denny Chin writes: ‘The sole issue now before the Court is whether Google’s use of the copyrighted works is “fair use” under the copyright laws. For the reasons set forth below, I conclude that it is.’

Fair use is amongst others defined by if the use of the work is commercial or nonprofit, how much of the work is used, and what effect the use will have on the value of the work. Since the terms are so fluent, verdicts are on a case-by-case manner. The verdict has been very fascinating to read, and I recommend anyone interested in the case between the two parties, and copyright infringement in general, to read through the it.

What I am especially interested in, and what I have used some of my researching times delving into, is the concept of fair use in terms of its transformative dogma. Fair use is often used as a defense or strategy when previously published works are appropriated and – to use a much used phrase – made new. In such the appropriation or transformation must show a significant step towards changing the ‘old’ into a ‘new’ – whether it is in expression, meaning or message (read from page 19 onwards in judge Denny Chin’s verdict as how this applies in the case of Google Books).

Cases where authors such as Kenneth Goldsmith, who insists he has never ‘written’ any of his books‘, visual artists like Marcel Broodthaers’ graphical rendition of Mallarmé’s Un coup de Dés, replacing all words with black bars, and right over to your everyday fanfictionist using and relocating characters from all universes for a variety of purposes, these are (extreme) cases that highlight how no works are solely in their own, but need to be used, reused and recontexualised over and over and over again – some more calculated than others. It acknowledges that in unoriginality we can also find new – new expressions, thoughts, meanings and point of views, that can open up our awareness of and experience with text, language, symbols, our selves mind and body, etc.


The following are quotes from the verdict – a collection of reasons Google Books is deemed fit to fall under the definition of fair use:

“Google Books provides a new and efficient way for readers and researchers to find books. It makes tens of millions of books searchable by words and phrases.”

“Indeed, Google Books has become such an important tool for researchers and librarians that it has been integrated into the educational system — it is taught as part of the information literacy curriculum to students at all levels.”

“Google Books permits humanities scholars to analyze massive amounts of data — the literary record created by a collection of tens of millions of books. Researchers can examine word frequencies, syntactic patterns, and thematic markers to consider how literary style has changed over time.”

Google Books expands access to books. In particular, traditionally underserved populations will benefit as they gain knowledge of and access to far more books.”

“…by helping readers and researchers identify books, Google Books benefits authors and publishers.”

You can read the whole verdict here: Authors Guild vs. Google Inc.