As an organization committed to the principle of freedom of access to information, and the belief that equitable access to information is vital to the educational and cultural well-being of communities, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) welcomes the decision of the US District Court with regards to the legality of the Google Books project. Last week, Judge Chin ruled that the digitisation of university library collections by Google was a fair use under US copyright law. In his ruling, Judge Chin observed:

It advances 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.” 

It is this balance between the rights of users and owners that IFLA is seeking to achieve for libraries internationally. IFLA is concerned that the US District Court’s decision reflects a widening digital divide between what libraries are able to accomplish in the Unites States, as compared with the rest of the world. IFLA represents more than 1500 library associations and institutions in over 150 countries, many of whom are operating under a patchwork of restrictive copyright provisions ill-suited for the digital environment. IFLA maintains that access to digital library collections of the scale and nature of the Google Books project can be an unprecedented source for the advancement of learning and human development, and that this access should be universal.

The Decision

In his decision, Judge Chin reflects at length on the benefits of the digitisation of library collections to readers, libraries, authors and publishers alike.  These benefits include: the promotion of text and data mining; long term preservation; opportunities for the discovery of works previously out of print, or inaccessible; efficient discoverability of works; and increased efficiency of inter library lending and cataloguing; and links to retailers where readers can purchase titles, or to library collections where the work can be found. The US District Court’s decision in this case, which joins favorable decisions for US libraries in HathiTrust and Georgia State e-reserves actions, indicates the ability of US research institutions to adopt flexibly and more competitively to new digital opportunities. IFLA is determined to ensure that libraries in the rest of the world are not left behind.

IFLA has previously published its position on the terms of the Google Book Settlement (2009), and some of IFLA’s reservations regarding the nature of the Google Books settlement itself remain. IFLA is concerned about the territorial limits of the project: for readers, researchers and libraries from outside of the United States wanting to access this significant digital collection, and for libraries in other parts of the world wanting to undertake similar digitisation projects. The control of this significant collection of digital information by one corporate entity is another concern; Google’s lead in the field of mass digitization poses challenges for libraries and research institutions seeking to initiate viable competitive projects.  Concerns regarding the privacy of patron data, pricing of subscription access and potential censorship of information displayed are also reflected in IFLA’s position statement.


IFLA continues to advocate strongly through the World Intellectual Property Organisation for an international copyright framework that safeguards and supports the activities of libraries and archives, and which takes into account the significant public benefits in ensuring enduring and equal access to information in the 21st century. 

Read IFLA’s position on copyright exceptions and limitations, and IFLA’s ongoing advocacy at WIPO.

In an environment in which the laws that govern access to digital information are being increasingly undermined by contractual terms and conditions, or further restricted through trade agreements, IFLA maintains that achieving copyright reform through an open, inclusive forum like the World Intellectual Property Organisation is essential.

Read the libraries’ statement on Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations.

What is the Google Books project?

IFLA has previously published an overview of the Google Books project and digitisation processes involved.