An ongoing copyright infringement suit by the Authors Guild may determine the fate of Google Inc.’s controversial digital books project.

The Google Library Project allows users to search and read books online. Google display 20 percent of the text in a search and allows consumers to purchase the entire book through its online storefront, Google Play. Authors, publishers and artists allege that the project amounts to massive copyright infringement, while Google maintains that its efforts are protected by fair use.

Google has faced several copyright infringement lawsuits challenging its digital book project. Last year, Google reached a settlement with the Association of American Publishers. Under the terms of the agreement, publishers can decide whether to grant permission for Google to digitize their copyrighted yet out-of-print books. If they assent, Google can add the books to its growing online library. Meanwhile, publishers will receive their own digital copy, which can then be sold online as an e-book.

In the latest suit by book authors, the momentum seems favor Google, particularly on the key issue of fair use. At a hearing held in September, Judge Denny Chin noted that fair use analysis relies in part on whether the project “is a benefit to society.” Chin went out the list several examples of how Google’s project can help people find information. “Aren’t these transformative uses, and don’t they benefit society?” Chin asked counsel representing the authors.

Chin also rejected the assertion that the U.S. Congress should be the ultimate decision maker. “Does anything get done in Congress these days?” Chin said. “What are you suggesting? That I don’t decide … and wait for Congress?”

Of course, no matter how Judge Chin rules, the case is likely destined for the appeals court.

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