Google has won a long-running lawsuit over its Google Books program, as a federal judge today ruled that the project falls under fair use protections. The plaintiffs, led by the Authors Guild, alleged the program had infringed on the books copyright protections by scanning them and rendering the full text available for search. The court took as a given that Google had scanned copyright-protected books without permission. "The sole issue now before the Court is whether Google's use of the copyrighted works is 'fair use' under the copyright laws," the decision reads. "For the reasons set forth below, I conclude that it is."

The eight-year lawsuit may finally come to a close

The crucial issue was whether Google Books process changed the text enough to be considered transformative. Ultimately, Judge Denny Chin held that "the use of book text to facilitate search through the display of snippets is transformative," clearing it for fair use protections. As precedent, the judge also invoked a previous case, Perfect 10 v. Amazon.com, in which searchable thumbnail versions of copyright-protected images were held to be transformative. The decision also held the Books program as transformative because it allows "data mining and text mining in new areas," a reference to Google's NGram Viewer and other similar services.

The result is good news for Google, as the eight-year lawsuit may finally come to a close, but potentially troubling for the Author's Guild and similar copyright groups. Significantly, Google is forbidden from selling advertising on Google Books or charging money for the Books or Ngram services. But any data gleaned from the text can now be incorporated into search functions and other algorithms free of charge and without fear of infringement.

Update: In a prepared statement, the Author's Guild has announced their plans to appeal the decision. "This case presents a fundamental challenge to copyright that merits review by a higher court," the statement reads. "In our view, such mass digitization and exploitation far exceeds the bounds of the fair use defense."