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Book News: Google's Book-Scanning Program Is Ruled 'Fair Use'

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • Google has emerged victorious from an eight-year court fight with the Author's Guild over whether the tech company's book-scanning program violates copyright laws. U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin in Manhattan ruled Thursday that the program is legal, writing that it provides "significant public benefits." Since 2004, Google has scanned more than 20 million books as part of an electronic database, making snippets of the scanned books available to the public. The Authors Guild argued that Google violated copyright law because books were scanned without permissions. But Chin defended the program as "[advancing] the progress of the arts and sciences, while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals, and without adversely impacting the rights of copyright holders." The judge added that the program has "become an invaluable research tool that permits students, teachers, librarians and others to more effectively identify and locate books." The Authors Guild said it plans to appeal, and its president, Paul Aiken told Publisher's Weekly, "Google made unauthorized digital editions of nearly all of the world's valuable copyright-protected literature and profits from displaying those works. In our view, such mass digitization and exploitation far exceeds the bounds of the fair use defense."
  • Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter is starting his own publishing division within Simon & Schuster. He told The New York Times' Julie Bosman, "I've always had an interest in business, and my interest in business has really expanded over the years. And I have an interest in content. So this gives me the opportunity to really combine the two. And it gives me the opportunity to curate and share interesting stories and share content with the public." Bosman reports that Jeter Publishing will focus on "nonfiction books for adults, like biographies and titles on business and lifestyle; children's picture books; middle-grade fiction; and books for children who are learning to read."
  • Two Belgian professors decided to run bacteriology and toxicology tests on the 10 most popular books in the Antwerp library. The results? All 10 had traces of cocaine, but only Fifty Shades of Grey tested positive for traces of the herpes virus. The professors say the amount of virus found was so minimal that it poses no risk to public health — but it's still undeniably gross.
  • Graywolf director and publisher Fiona McCrae has an interview with Barbara Epler, president of publisher New Directions, in which Epler says: "As an Italian agent once said to me, after listening to me complain about the American market for great literature (which it must be said is small but choice): 'Oh poor you, walking through the fields of world literature and picking the flowers.' And she's right, there are amazing flowers out there, waiting."
  • In a new essay, "Man vs. Corpse," Zadie Smith meditates on the dead body: "What is a corpse? It's what they piled up by the hundreds when the Rana Plaza collapsed in Bangladesh this April. It's what lands on the ground each time a human being jumps off the Foxconn building in China's high-tech iPhone manufacturing complex. (Twenty-one have died since 2010.) They spring flower-like in budded clusters whenever a bomb goes off in the marketplaces of Iraq and Afghanistan. A corpse is what individual angry, armed Americans sometimes make of each other for strangely underwhelming reasons: because they got fired, or a girl didn't love them back, or nobody at their school understands them. Sometimes—horrifyingly—it's what happens to one of 'our own,' and usually cancer has done it, or a car, at which moment we rightly commit ourselves to shunning the very concept of the 'corpse,' choosing instead to celebrate and insist upon the reality of a once-living person who, though 'dearly departed,' is never reduced to matter alone."
  • Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.