In the modern marketplace, consumers like to be able to have an idea of what they're purchasing. From free samples at the grocery store to free 30-day trials for software and apps, the though is that being able to try something before you have to put down hard-earned money will make consumers more willing to try something and hopefully like it enough to eventually pay for it. For book lovers, the idea of sampling before purchasing is a long-standing tradition. Walk into the few remaining brick and mortar bookstores and you'll see people sitting in chairs and benches reading books and magazines from off the shelves. Find a book that you might be interested in buying and you'll inevitable skim a page or two to see if the prose appeals to you. And online book shoppers will still be able to enjoy the same sampling thanks to a recent Supreme Court decision.
The Supreme Court decided recently to not hear a challenge to a lower court ruling on Google Books' practice of scanning books. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Favor of Google in the suit brought against the tech giant by the Authors' Guild. The guild claimed that showing search results of scanned books was a copyright infringement, even though the results only show restricted excerpt from the book. They also claimed that these excerpts represent an illegal free substitute for their work from which Google might also deprive the rightsholders of derivative rights in revenue through a licensed search market.
Google countered these claims by stating that, in addition to falling under fair use, the online excerpts would allow for written works to be more easily discovered by interested users. Google receives no revenue if users use a displayed link to purchase a book, nor do they show any advertising to those who search for books.
Fair use can be difficult to pin down. The U.S. Copyright Office states that fair use is determined on a case-by-case basis, and that there is no specific guideline for what separates fair use from copyright infringement. Merely acknowledging the source of the material does not constitute permission or absolve the user of any infringement, and there is no set limit of how much of the copyrighted material can be used before it constitutes infringement. However, when considering fair use cases, there are four factors that courts must take into account: the purpose of the use, the type of copyrighted work, the amount of copyrighted work that is used, and the effect of the use upon the potential market.