Fair Use Doctrine Should Let ‘Google Print’ Proceed

To the editors:

Adam Goldenberg writes in “Scan, Copy, Print” (column, Dec. 2) that Google’s new Print Project is piracy. By his logic, he is also a pirate. As a journalist and a student, he has to quote copyrighted written works all the time in order to write articles and papers. He likely does so without permission.

In turn, Goldenberg should know the answer to his closing question, “What good has really ever come of piracy?” Plenty. If writers like Goldenberg had to secure permission before quoting any material, their creativity would be stifled. In turn, copyright’s purpose­promoting the production of and access to creative works­—would be stifled.

According to Goldenberg, copyright rests “control...firmly in the hands of the authors and publishers.” Copyright law, fortunately, does not work this way. Copyright gives some exclusive rights to authors, but it also includes various exceptions to authors’ control, including fair use. Fair uses do not require permission.

Goldenberg is thus dead wrong when he says that Google Print necessarily takes control away from authors and “compromises the spirit...of copyright.” If Google’s use is fair, the authors have no such control to begin with, and fair use is entirely consonant with copyright’s purpose. Google’s use is piracy only in the sense that fair use quoting is piracy. In fact, Google does not even have to provide an opt-out if its use is fair.

Certainly, reasonable people can disagree about whether Google’s copying is fair use. Google’s service might impair copyright holders’ ability to license and get paid for this use, but it also likely promotes book sales and will increase the public’s access to creative works. Google’s service itself is a form of creativity that we might want to protect.

Piracy, as Goldenberg defines it, can be good or bad. Google’s use might be fair, and it might not. But failing to secure permission is hardly determinative.


December 2, 2005

The writer is a student fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.