All’s Fair in Copying the World’s Books

Wouldn’t it be fantastic to have all the world’s literature scanned and available for search in text online? Well, something along those lines is already here.

Google’s Book Project (or “Google Books”, as it has come to be called) is one of the enterprising tech giant’s ambitious ventures. Google Books itself consists of two smaller components. First, the Partner Program, in which Google hosts books on its website licensed from publishers with whom it has entered into agreements. Second, the Library Project, via which Google hosts scanned books from various libraries and collections without obtaining permission of the respective authors or publishers. Since beginning in 2004, Google has scanned over twenty million books as part of the Library Project. The goal is to make the text fully searchable through Google’s search engine.

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Good Deeds and Minimal Unauthorized Copying of Copyrighted Works

Literary legend William Faulkner was known for spectacular writing. His sentences were often very long indeed. So, perhaps it’s ironic that a brief Faulkner quotation – a single line — from his work Requiem for a Nun was at the center of a federal copyright lawsuit, namely, “The past is not dead. Actually it’s not even past.”

In Woody Allen’s motion picture, Midnight in Paris, several literary lights of the 1920s appeared as characters including Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Faulkner.

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Prince of Fair Use

Can a painter/collage artist use copyrighted photographs in his works without permission of the photographer? In a closely-watched case, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said in April that the answer is mostly a “yes.”

The case is important because of the desire and need in culture for artists to refer to other works and artists in order to express themselves — and to connect with the cultural references all around us in popular culture. It just so happens that much of that popular culture is protected by copyright (think of Mickey Mouse, Ansel Adams’ works, the movie Children of Paradise, The Great Gatsby, and so so much more). Seeking permission is time-consuming, sometimes expensive, and runs the risk of being turned down by the rights holder. Invoking the fair use defense is an appealing option – if it’s legal.

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The Next Great Copyright Act

Does the US Copyright Act need revision? Of course it does. It’s a truism but still true that copyright law always lags behind technology. It’s never been more relevant as it is right now. The pace of technology races onward and so much of it about how we access content such as music, images, text, and interactive entertainment. Maria A. Pallante, the Register of Copyrights, has rightfully called for Congress to turn its attention to this task, saying, “It is time for Congress to think about the next great copyright act.”

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Who’s Afraid of Fair Use? Is Fair Use a Right and Not a Defense Any More?

There’s a point in evolution when you can say that over evolutionary time Something Big has happened — or even mutated into something dramatic. I believe this week is one such time.

Pretty much any copying, distribution, public performance, or derivation of a copyrighted work (a book, an photo, a motion picture, a song, a website, etc.) without authorization of the copyright holder is copyright infringement. (I say “pretty much,” because some copying is so trivial that’s it is de minimis and doesn’t need a fair use defense. There are also a few specific exemptions from absolute copyright protection with respect to certain photocopying by libraries and for other special situations.) Dominion over a copyright is what a copyright holder gets – a near monopoly over the right to copy. To say it another way, the word “copyright” means it just the way it sounds.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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