Thursday, September 13, 2007

The economic value of "fair use"

Millions of people use Google’s search engine every day but don't realize that the balance inherent in U.S. copyright law helps enable it to exist. Here at Google, we strongly support the intellectual property rights of content creators and the protection of copyright. We think creators deserve to be rewarded for their work, and support the balance of copyright law as fundamental to promoting future creativity.

While protecting the rights of creators, the Constitution and the courts place limits on the rights of copyright holders. For example, copyright laws encourage others to make use of content in limited ways without seeking anyone's permission through the doctrine of "fair use." By enabling journalists, scholars and the general public to quote from and comment on others' writings, the fair use doctrine underscores basic rights of free expression.

Fair use also assures that technological innovations such as the Internet itself can operate without violating copyright law. For instance, Google crawls the web, analyzes and indexes its content and makes a copy of each page on our servers. Our index is made up of the content of every web page which is crawled, optimized and stored in a variety of locations all over the world, to deliver results to users in a fraction of a second. In this way, we provide an opportunity for content creators to promote and capitalize on their creativity.

We've known for a while that fair use has allowed entire new industries and companies to grow, and to bring beneficial new services and innovative devices to consumers. Now, an interesting new study released yesterday by the Computer and Communications Industry Association (of which Google is a member) attempts to quantify the contribution of industries relying on fair use to the economy.

The study -- which I encourage you to check out -- concludes that the "fair use economy" in 2006 accounted for $4.6 trillion in revenues (roughly one-sixth of total U.S. gross domestic product), employed more than 17 million people, and supported a payroll of $1.2 trillion (approximately one out of every eight workers in the US). It also generated $194 billion in exports and significant productivity growth. Using a methodology similar to a previous World Intellectual Property Organization guide, the results of the study demonstrate that fair use is an important economic driver in the digital age.

Copyright law involves a delicate balance, and here in the U.S. fair use is an important part of that equation. This study suggests that it's also an important part of the U.S. economy.


Philipp Lenssen said...

I hope you make more full use of fair use in some of your services, like Google Book Search, which at this time doesn't seem to show snippets from copyrighted books (even though that would be fair).

On another note, I wonder how you can explain how republishing a full webpage is considered fair use. After all, that's what you do with the Google Cache feature. Webmasters can opt-out of it via meta declarations, but copyright never defaults to "non-copyrighted + full use" when no further details are specified by the content owner: it defaults to "copyrighted + fair use", at least for some years after publication.

(Not that I mind the Google Cache; in fact I think laws should be adjusted to allow this kind of use, as we should only look at the actual harm being done to the content owner... which in the case of caching is basically non-existent.)

On yet another note, I also hope you introduce "fair use" cases to some of your self-censored content. For instance, at this time you don't show any satellite imagery at all for Google China Maps ( If you are convinced you must compromise via self-censorship, then why do you fully hide this information from Chinese users... why not display some fair amount of it?

Also, when you ban websites like Human Rights Watch ( for Chinese users in China, why do you ban all of the around 48,800 pages on that domain -- including new ones being posted to the domain -- and not "only" the ones deemed "sensitive" by the Chinese government at one particular point? (It's not just restricted to China; in Germany for you do the same with some domains, like

scodtt said...

There are some interesting things going on at the state level about fair use also. Here's one:

LgDb California Model State Trademark Law


Nick said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought the U.S. GDP was 13.3 trillion in 2006, meaning fair use accounts for 1/3 of total value produced in the U.S.

AFS said...

Be careful not to mislead people with these numbers. They estimate the amount of US economic activity that depends on 'fair use industries' (somehow defined). They do not estimate how US GDP and employment would change if policy towards fair use were changed. People must be very careful not to come to conclusions like 'banning fair use will cause US GDP to shrink by one-sixth'.

I discuss this in more detail on my blog here:

Bertil Hatt said...

One sixth, one eighth: so it means "Fair Use Industry"is more capital intensive (or pay less) then the average other industries in the US? Where is the capital from, and what are the consequence of that on other countries?

AFS: what the study say is that a large share of the industry will be massively disrupted if Fair Use is reconsidered, and not just a few geeks in their basement. Would the US Industry tank and look for a recovery? Probably -- but I doubt you can easily resume to a functioning economy without quoted sources in journals, reference-based science, search engines, art critic and product reviews. This "sixth" might be a good share of the head.

Francisco de ZavalĂ­a said...

I can't read the report. Could someone mail it to me? my email is, Thanks.

Dennis D. McDonald said...

I've published my comments on the research report here:

In a nutshell: In my post I discuss some areas that I think are flawed but, overall, I give the group an "A for Effort" for trying to shed light on a complex topic in a report that contains a significant amount of interesting documentation.

nextune said...

Well in researching, how does this apply to phots?

On my site I want to make my photo available for webmasters to use to create sites, but do not want them given or listed by third parties.

Is that the rights left copyrights? is going to grow fast, and I want the proper disclaimers so if need be I can go after violators.

And I also have heard that if you let an infringment go for a lengthy period, it is considered consent to use.

nextune said...

Sorry, first one wasn't clickable LOL Free Helpings Free Photos

Ken Dubrowski said...

"Economic value of fair use" seems funny coming from Google.
From where I sit that seems to suggest that Google wants far greater value than they are willing to pay.

It is my understanding Google supports the Orphan works bill and hopes to see this pass.

Artists are discussing removal of their images from Google's blog sites in protest of their support for Orphan works which is being seen as a threat to net neutrality. I may in fact follow suit.

Google is a commercial entity and as such they do not have creator's interests at heart.

Thanks Ken Dubrowski

Letter to senators in opposition to Orphan Works

As a constituent, an illustrator and a copyright holder, I'm writing to ask that you oppose S. 2913, the Shawn Bentley Orphan Works
Act of 2008. Despite the title of this bill, its effects will not be
limited to those works that are true "orphans". Instead, it will affect
any citizen's creative work, from professional works of art to Sunday
paintings to vacation photos. The issue at stake is not small. This bill
is in fact a radical reversal of copyright law and the logic of ownership
of personal property.

Instead of providing solutions to appropriately deal with copyrighted work
whose creators are hard to identify or locate, the Orphan Works Bill, will
instead legalize the commercial or non-commercial infringement of any work
of art, past, present, and future, regardless of age, country of origin,
published or unpublished, whenever a copyright owner cannot be identified
or located, and will disproportionately cause harm to visual artists and
those who are rights holders of visual works.

Current copyright law protects everything you create from the moment you
create it. But under this amendment, nothing you create will be protected
from potential infringement, even if you undertake active steps to assert
and maintain ownership - a daunting task for creators of visual works.

The Copyright Office studied the specific subject of "orphan works" -
copyrighted works whose owners may be impossible to identify or locate.
Yet this bill would drastically affect commercial markets, a subject the
Copyright Office never studied.

I am alive, working and managing my copyrights. I can be found. My clients
find me all the time. If 100 people can find me, and one person can't, why
should that one person be allowed a free ride to use my work? Why should I
have to go to court to contest an infringer's diligence or prove the value
of my own work?

The consequences of this radical change to Copyright Law have never been
subjected to a market impact survey. As such, there is no way to
determine the harmful effects it will have on my markets, contracts and
licenses, or on any of the collateral businesses that serve rights holders
like me and are dependent on us - or on average citizens who will have to
join us in eternal vigilance from the unwanted use of their personal
property. Because there has been no study of the potential ramifications
of this legislation, my business and thousands of other small businesses
across this country are likely to be destroyed if H.R.5889 is passed.

This bill was planned behind closed doors, introduced on short notice and
fast-tracked for imminent passage. In order for the concerns of creators
to be heard, I believe any bill that constitutes such a profound change to
the ownership of private property should be subjected to an open,
informed, and transparent public debate.

Thank you for your consideration of this critical issue.


Kenneth Dubrowski