Google Books decision is much more than a win for Google.
A lot of people have already explained how awesome the Google Books fair use victory is. There’s no need to retread that here. But it’s worth pointing out how the decision (assuming it survives appeal, which it probably will) could benefit a lot of non-Googles in the future.
The story of the Google Books lawsuit has been going on for years. Its weirdest turn happened a while ago when Public Knowledge, along with many many other nonprofits, academics, libraries, and authors, filed in court to oppose the proposed settlement between Google and the Authors Guild. There were many reasons to oppose the settlement, but the most pertinent is that a settlement would have allowed Google to continue its book-scanning project–which is a good thing!–but that there would be no precedent to allow others, whether other companies, libraries, or nonprofits, to do the same. On top of that, the way the settlement would have been structured, as a bizarre kind of class action settlement between Google and all “authors,” would have made it extremely unlikely that any future scanning projects would be able to get the same treatment as Google. This would have competitive implications, because there shouldn’t be a legally-enforced monopoly on book search engines. But it would also stunt the development of the law, by preventing a court from issuing just the kind of thoughtful fair use decision that Judge Chin issued last week.
Now that this decision (and the also-awesome Hathitrust decision that came out earlier last year) is out there, a lot of other activities go forward with more certainty. People can build searchable archives of TV news. Image, video, audio, book, and software archives and search engines now know that the copying that they have to build their services is probably fair use. The decision even offers some more clarity for organizations that archive web sites, social media postings, and other online-only materials. At the same time, authors and creators know that these services are only fair uses because they don’t compete with or substitute for traditional media markets–just as you can’t use Google Books to substitute for buying a book, other new uses of copyrighted material in archives and search engines will bring value to the public without taking away creators’ ability to benefit from their work.
Basically, to crow a little bit, everything is working out just as we had hoped. Opposing the Google Books settlement didn’t turn out to mean that Google Books gets taken away from everyone. Instead, it’s led to a scenario where Google Books will stick around, and a lot of awesome new stuff will get built. This is a great outcome.