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Authors Guild Asks Supreme Court to Hear Google Books Copyright Case

Dec 31, 2015

It looked like the 10-year copyright clash between Google and the Authors Guild was finished once and for all when a unanimous appeals court ruled in October that the tech giant's scanning of 20 million books was fair use. But there may be one more chapter.

The Authors Guild has now asked the Supreme Court to reconsider the appeals court ruling, which affirmed the book scanning was "transformative" and praised Google's (goog) contribution to research and data mining.

The Guild, which represents various writers who are unhappy with the book scanning, reportedly filed the appeal on Thursday, but a public copy of the document has yet to surface. According to the Washington Post, which saw a preview of the petition, the Guild doesn't want to shut down the scanning, but instead wants Google to pay copyright fees.

Such an outcome appears unlikely given that the October ruling by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals was unanimous, and affirmed a famous earlier Supreme Court case about fair use. The top court, which accepts less than 1% of all appeals, may also refuse to hear the case.

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Despite these long odds, the Authors Guild may be hoping the high profile nature of the case, which at one time transfixed the tech and publishing communities, will tempt the Supreme Court to weigh in on the scope of fair use. Here is a quote from the Guild's brief, cited by the Post:

This case represents an unprecedented judicial expansion of the fair-use doctrine that threatens copyright protection in the digital age. The decision below authorizing mass copying, distribution, and display of unaltered content conflicts with this Court’s decisions and the Copyright Act itself.

Fair use has become an evermore important issue in recent years as the nature of digital media continues to collide with traditional notions of copyright.

For more about digital copyright concerns, see this Fortune video about music on SoundCloud:

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This tension is fueled by the ease with which it is possible to appropriate text and images online, but also stems from overly long copyright terms that now often stretch to over a century. Many advocates for copyright reform also object to draconian damage laws that permit rights-holders to seek $150,000 for a single violation.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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