GoogleBooks' Transformative Ruling

Several years ago, Google came up with an idea to scan in a whole bunch of books and make them searchable, for free, for the public. They did this without a licenses from the copyright owners of the books, but contended that their use was not infringement.

Naturally, it went to court.

And today we have an answer from the Second Circuit: Google Books is Fair Use because the books are, themselves, transformative works.

While the case itself doesn’t mention fanworks, most law in the US is made by comparing situations and “arguing by analogy”, so the Google Books ruling has huge implications for fandom and the fan community. The bulk of the court’s analysis is focused on the first part of the Fair Use test: the “Purpose and character of the use”, aka whether or not a work is “transformative.” Although the “transformative” nature of a work is only one factor in the fair use test, it is often considered to be the most important part of the test, and the ruling in this case is no exception.

In this case, the court found that Google’s use of the text was transformative, both in the sense that it digitized the text, but also that it indexed and made the text searchable, comparing the function of google books, which isn’t to provide whole copies of books to consumers for free, but to provide ways for consumers to search for information in more than just web postings, similar to the function of thumbnail searching for images. (A practice which has already been held to be fair use, Perfect 10, Inc. v., Inc, 2007.)

Finding transformative use where there has not been significant altering of the original work itself, but rather a transformation in how the original work is used, is extremely significant for fandom.

(From Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World)

Though there haven’t been any direct rulings on the legality of freely shared fanfiction, there is a lot of misinformation and scare tactics that make the rounds periodically, claiming that we’re all just a C&D letter from being wiped off the face of the internet. In this case, the court found that,

‘Google Books does not supersede or supplant books because it is not a tool to be used to read books. Instead, it ‘adds value to the original’ and allows for ‘the creation of new information, new aesthetics, new insights and understandings.’ Leval, Toward a Fair Use Standard, 103 Harv. L. Rev. at 1111. Hence, the use is transformative.

That’s what fanfiction does - its authors create new aesthetics, new insights and new understandings, in narrative form. The parallels are inescapable.

Expanding the definition of “transformative” to allow for uses of the original text that not only allow for new interpretation but allow for new uses that take from the source material and may or may not significantly change that source is huge for fanfiction, both as a matter of law and as a matter of public perception. Many people who are still arguing that fanfiction is illegal are claiming that it isn’t transformative enough. Fanfic is never going to supplant the original work; instead, fic writers are adding value to the original source by exploring characters and universes in more depth than the original is able to. Any ruling that expands the definition of what is considered a “transformative” work helps us.

The case will likely be appealed, but for now read the full ruling here.

Today in Haitian History - April 17, 1825 – French recognition of Haitian independence 

While Haiti had enjoyed nominal sovereignty since 1804, France never acknowledged the independence of its former Perle des Antilles. Consequently, eager to establish more formal relations with the United States as independent nation, Jean-Pierre Boyer saw the necessity of obtaining French recognition at all coast. Indeed, in exchange for irrevocable admission of Haitian independence, the young Republic agreed to settle a charge of 150M francs, to be paid in five separate instalments of 30M each. The arrangement also guaranteed preferential treatment to France in all matters of trade

The indemnity placed Boyer (and all subsequent governments) in a delicate position. With annual revenues reaching 15M francs, even if it assumed payements for the next 10 years (to reach the 150M agreement), this left the Haitian treasury with nothing for defence, infrastructure, education, or any other domestic concerns. In effect, the indemnity placed Haiti in a neo-colonial relationship vis-à-vis her former metropole, this, even after the actual price was re-negotiated under Louis-Philippe’s July Monarchy. 

The indemnity question remains a much debated terrain in French and Haitian historiography as most scholars still speculate as to the actual year of the its resolution. While most accept that by 1888, Haiti reimbursed most of the 1838 re-agreements, some argue that the indemnity was settled in the 1930s with Sténio Vincent’s administration. Others however, maintain that it was finalized in 1946, when all interests on loans were paid off as Dumarsais Estimé assumed office. Whatever the case may be, few would deny the grave impact the indemnity had on Haiti’s overall development.

(Source) + (Source) + (Source)

Original Image Courtesy of: Histoire des Antilles et des Colonies Françaises, Espagnoles, Anglaises By Élias Regnault, Frédéric Lacroix, Ferdinand Denys.

An article in The Message states that Google is reducing its efforts at digitizing old books. That certainly is a loss for genealogists, historians, and many others. In what appears to be an unrelated move, the Internet Archive is INCREASING its efforts at digitizing old books, adding 1,000 books to the online collection EACH DAY.  Perhaps there is hope for genealogists after all.

You can read more about the demise of Google Books and the rise of the Internet Archive here.  The Internet Archive may be found at Information about the Internet Archive book digitization efforts may be found at

We were having our own doubts, of course. How could you not? The Google Books project seemed to be letting itself go. Things any librarian would notice: bad scans; faulty metadata; narrowing the scope of public domain; having machines do jobs that should be done (or at least overseen) by humans. They seemed to be restricting and worsening access to cultural content, not expanding and improving it. Maybe we were going in different directions?

Severe distortion: “a remarkable collection of (what can only be described as) hallucinogenic architectural views and plans.” Pointed out by asfaltics here.

Throughout The Builder, v. 77 (1899). Original from the University of Michigan. Digitized February 26, 2011.


2009, 12 books, dimensions variable

«As libraries become increasingly digitized through projects like Google Books, what gets lost? What do we lose—and what can we gain—in the transition from physical objects to digital forms? How does the dematerialization of books effect our understanding of them? Can digital books be made physical again?

Special Collection consists of a dozen hand-sewn books, each partial recreations of books found on Google Books. Each is reproduced at its original size, revealing multiple disruptions and errors, introduced during Google’s own scanning process: the scanner’s hand, holding down and obliterating the page; type and illustrations which have degraded and blurred to the point of illegibility; pages scanned while in the process of being turned; fold-out maps and charts that were scanned while closed. Some of these artifacts are beautiful and evocative. They are the found poetry of this new machine.

By reinvesting these digital books with physical form, Special Collection asks us to consider the contradictions and unintended consequences of technological advance. Approaching Google Books through its fissures offers a chance to peek behind the curtain of a mysterious, complicated endeavor, which is little understood and generally taken for granted as progress. By using Google’s scans and resources to create this work, I am both highlighting the potential of this new era of distribution and access, and questioning Google’s claims of ownership of all the world’s information.»

(via Special Collection - Benjamin Shaykin / graphic design)


Some of you might remember that in like… 2006 and 2007, I discovered a collection of primary sources on 19th century French republicanism entitled “Les Révolutions du XIXe siècle” and embarked on a mad quest to hunt it down. It ended in me schlepping out an hour’s drive to the University of Maryland, plonking my nervous teenage self down in their library with the sense that I was trespassing, and proceeding to type up absolutely insane amounts of it by hand. This still makes up about ¾ of what’s on the History page of my website, even if it barely scratched the surface of what was in the collection.

Gallica has PDFs of the whole series up for free.

I repeat, THIS IS NOT A DRILL, Gallica has the entirety of Les Révolutions du XIXe siècle available for free.

I still sometimes get the urge to cry with joy over how much the digitization and online availability of public-domain documents has revolutionized the amateur study of history. I want to go back and give my 18-year-old self a hug and whisper beautiful things about the future in her ear, because the fact is that in summer 2006, I didn’t even give a second thought to sitting there in the UMD library with a pair of reading glasses I never should have needed, hunched over a copy of “La presse républicaine devant les tribunaux 1831-1834” and touch-typing as fast as my fingers could manage the French. It didn’t even occur to me to be sad that there was no other way to share these sources with anyone (or even have them myself for later reference, because I’m not a UMD student and can’t check out books there). At that point Google Books was barely a thing and they didn’t even have any partnerships to digitize university libraries yet. Digitization? Of obscure stuff like this, rather than the classic literature up on Project Gutenberg? What did I want, the world handed to me on a silver platter?

Well, whether I thought to want it or not, that’s what I got. And a pony. All wrapped up in a bright red bow.

Gallica’s records indicate that “Les Révolutions du XIXe siècle” was digitized in October 2007. That’s the same month I discovered Google Books. And I don’t think that’s a coincidence–it’s a sign of HOW FAST this all happened. Open-access public-domain history went from a pipe dream to a reality in the space of a year. The sources we take for granted now, the sources that have actually started showing up in Amazon results because there are companies that will take the free digitized copy and print it for you on demand, were things that were just not available when I got into Les Mis fandom unless you had either inter-library loan access or the time, gas money, geographic luck, and brazen gall to march into random institutional libraries and call yourself a historian. I hit the jackpot on geographic luck, but in 2006 I never did work up the time and courage to jump through all the security and registration hoops to request things from the closed stacks at NIH or the Library of Congress. And the Library of Congress? Is really goddamn friendly and open-access compared to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, which makes you justify yourself with institutional backing and proof that you can’t obtain your sources anywhere else just to get into the building. Which is one more reason why Gallica is a beautiful, amazing thing.

“Bestselling author Susan Forward looks at the devastating impact unloving mothers have on their daughters and provides effective techniques for overcoming that painful legacy.

Over the course of thirty-five years as a therapist, Susan Forward has worked with a large number of women struggling to escape the emotional damage inflicted by the women who raised them. Subjected to years of criticism, competition, role reversal, smothering control, emotional neglect, and other forms of abuse, women raised by mothers who can’t love are plagued by anxiety, depression, relationship problems, lack of confidence, and difficulties with trust.

But as Forward explains in Mothers Who Can’t Love, it is possible to heal the mother wound and find help and validation. The many different kinds of unloving mothers—the narcissistic mother, the competitive mother, the overly enmeshed mother, the control freak, mothers who need mothering, and mothers who abuse or fail to protect their daughters from abuse—are all described in these pages. They each bring unique issues to the mother-daughter dynamic and need to be understood in order for healing to begin.

Filled with compelling case histories, Mothers Who Can’t Love outlines the self-help techniques Forward has developed to transform the lives of her clients, showing women how to overcome the pain of their childhoods and act in their own best interests. Riveting and compassionate, this landmark book will give daughters the emotional support and tools they need to reclaim their confidence and self-respect so that the emotional destructiveness they grew up with does not constitute a legacy for future generations.” - Google Books