A Win for Libraries

Have you heard about the recent ruling of the Google Books case?

The case began eight years ago when The Authors Guild filed a suit against Google for violating copyright law by scanning copyrighted books and making them available electronically.  Finally, last week, U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin dismissed the lawsuit and issued this (30 page) statement.

Why does this ruling matter?


Essentially, the ruling judge decided that Google’s efforts in scanning tens of millions of books, which are still under copyright, falls under the guidelines for fair use and is therefore legal.  How is that possible?  By scanning these books, Google provided added value, which is unavailable in print form, by allowing users to search books electronically.  This feature greatly increased the accessibility of the books’ contents, which the judge decided was more valuable than any possible violation of copyright.  In addition, Google provides access to only the most relevant pieces of a text in the briefest form, with outside links to retailers and libraries where users can acquire full text access legally.

Why are librarians so excited?

To quote Ian Chant’s article from Library Journal:

In the opinion issued today, Judge Chin agreed that Google Books is not a place where readers can go to pirate books but a tool to help people find books that may be of interest to them. Chin cited libraries as a particular beneficiary, noting that “Google Books has become an essential research tool, as it helps librarians identify and find research sources, it make the process of interlibrary lending more efficient, and it facilitates finding and checking citations.”

Simply stated, Google Books has increased the accessibility of books, and enabled librarians to do a better job finding, researching and sharing those books with their patrons.

What do librarians love?

Information access.


That’s my book . . . or is it?


Kirtsaeng v. John Wily & Sons, Inc.
Capitol Records v. Redigi, Inc.

If you are a court watcher, a librarian, or someone who thinks you own a book, DVD, or a digital file after you buy it, then the recent rulings in these two court cases had you sitting on the edge of your seat.

Never heard of them? How about the First Sale Doctrine? Have you ever sold, regifted, or donated a book, DVD, or music CD? Assuming you acquired the copy you own legally, the First Sale Doctrine allows you to do any of those things. It does not allow you to make 100 copies of the work and then sell or donate them. The copyright owner (e.g., publishing or record company) only controls the first sale of the item.

What happened? Supap Kirtsaeng, a student from Thailand, asked friends and family to send him 600 (!) copies of a textbook produced in Asia at a lower cost than the same one published in the US. After they arrived he sold them on eBay for a tidy profit. So the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, sued him claiming that the first sale doctrine does not apply to goods produced outside the U.S.


The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mr. Kirtsaeng and that is a good thing. It means that your friendly neighborhood library can loan you a book published in Europe or Asia, that you can buy a car made outside the U.S. and resell it, that a museum really can put a painting on display by Picasso, and that you can resell or give away books or other copyrighted items that you buy while studying abroad.
Now. . . how about if you own a digital music file, an mp3 or file purchased on iTunes? Can you resell it? Redigi thinks you can. Capitol Records sued Redigi, a company that manages selling digital music. Redigi actually has a seller install software that pulls files from a customer’s hard drive so they can’t even access the music they are selling once Redigi extracts it. So what’s the problem? The files aren’t really transferred. They’re copied. And a federal court ruled that the first sale doctrine doesn’t apply to copies.


Confused yet? Copyright, intellectual property, fair use, first sale doctrine, file sharing. It can get complicated. It’s your right to know and your right (and responsibility) to use your information and images ethically and legally. Know your rights! Check these sources for more information:

Electronic Frontier Foundation
Copyright Basics (U.S. Copyright Office, Library of Congress)
Columbia University Libraries Copyright Advisory Office

Images May be Subject to Copyright

Copyright event advertisement

Join the Dean of Faculty, the Library, and the Art & Art History Department on Friday, February 1, 2013 in the Glendening Annex for

Images May be Subject to Copyright, a mini-symposium on images, copyright and fair use for students, faculty and staff with Dr. Kenneth Crews, Director of the Copyright Advisory Office at Columbia University

Here’s the schedule:

Learn about the basics of copyright, get tips for owning your work and taking advantage of fair use for your own class work and scholarship.  Bring questions!

What do you want to know? Open Q&A with Dr. Crews, light lunch, and conversation.  Bring examples of your work, and of course, more questions.

To learn more about this event, contact Celia Rabinowitz.