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If you are an author you may wondering what is going to happen to your copyright if your book is indexed by Google books. There has been a lot of talk about this and quite frankly it’s hard to know when your copyright is being violated, and when fair use falls into play.
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The Definition of Copyright
The exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute the matter and form of something (as a literary, musical, or artistic work). Definition Source.
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As an author you may already be aware of fair use. As a matter of fact, if you wrote scholarly works you are probably very familiar with fair use because your work builds off of the work of others. For those of you that aren’t familiar with fair use this is the ability for someone who is not the copyright holder of a work to use a limited portion of the work without the express written consent of the author. Fair use has become part of the legal system primarily because copyright has become so long. At this point copyright has become 84 years after the copyright holder, and with an increased number of corporate copyrights some copyrights pretty much extend into eternity. Fair use allows us to build on those works without violating copyright or having to start from scratch. It is important to know that fair use is considered a legally defensible position and is not really written in any particular law book. This means that what is fair use and what isn’t fair use is handled by the courts on a case by case basis when somebody sues for violation of copyright. The determination of whether or not use of a work falls under fair use or it falls under a violation of copyright depends on a few basic factors. Some of those factors include. The amount of the work being used, a work being used in part is more likely under fair use than a work being used in whole. As a matter of fact works in whole are almost never considered fair use property. This means that if Google publishes a one page snippet of your 200 page book they may be able to claim fair use. If however the publisher publishes the whole book then they are going to be up the creek. The nature of the reason why it was being copied, this is a bit of a grey area because generally things being used for parody are accepted. Where as things that are used for commercial purposes are not, also academic and non profit institutions are given a little bit more lead way in fair use then commercial instates are. The problem here being that Google sits in a specific grey area because they are using these books to help academic researchers, who are traditionally non profits but Google itself is a commercial entity.
The issues that most authors want to hear about is effects on works value. Obviously if Google is giving away a free copy of your book for anyone to read that may cut into your sales. Since no one in their right mind would buy what they could get for free. That means that if you can show how Googles actions can cut into your profits, or can potentially cut into your profits then yes they are in violation of your copyright.
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In 2005 the author of the Authors Guild decided to sue Google for infringements. A settlement was reached, but since the department of Justice is currently looking into the settlement it may not stand. For now, it’s better for any author to air on the side of caution as to simply list your title on Google books so they have control over the amount shared if any. That way they are protected if the settlement stands or not.
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Please note this is only general advice on the nature of copyrights and fair use. If you feel like your copyright has been violated then you should seek the advice of a copyright attorney. The advice in this piece is not designed in anyway to create an attorney client relationship.