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Judge Chin Reimagines the Fair Use Doctrine for the Internet Age

Last week, Judge Denny Chin gave Google the green light for its book scanning project – and changed the rules for everybody that has a web site.

The 30 page opinion is just the latest in the now-eight year battle between Google and the Author’s Guild (among others) over Google’s massive book scanning project. But if the Author’s Guild fails to overturn the Judge’s decision on appeal, it will mark an enormous watershed in the ability of Web site owners to display copyrighted works without the prior permission of the owners of those works.

At issue was the appropriate application of the ???fair use??? doctrine under U.S. law to the Google project, a rationale that allows certain types of copying to be permissible that would otherwise be actionable. As applied by Judge Chin, the scope of that doctrine has seemingly been expanded by orders of magnitude. Indeed, in the case at hand, the judge has broadened its scope so dramatically that it’s difficult not to conclude that he was struggling to find sufficient legal precedents to justify a favorable outcome for Google. Many will contend that he fell short in that effort, and that his intent was instead to rebalance, if not rewrite, the doctrine itself in order to bring it into the Internet age.