A U.S. judge on Thursday threw out a long-running challenge to Google’s massive book-scanning project in a decision that could transform copyright law in the digital age.

Federal Judge Denny Chin dismissed the case which dates back to 2005, saying Google’s project is “fair use” under copyright law because it provides vital educational and other public benefits.

In a 28-page decision, Chin said the Google programme, dubbed the “Library Project,” preserves books, gives “new life” to forgotten editions, sustains “print-disabled” users and benefit authors and publishers by finding them new readers. “In my view, Google Books provides significant public benefits,” Chin wrote. “Indeed, all society benefits.”

The Authors Guild, one of the original plaintiffs in the case, vowed an appeal, saying the decision runs counter to copyright standards.

“This case presents a fundamental challenge to copyright that merits review by a higher court,” said Authors Guild executive director Paul Aiken.

“Google made unauthorised digital editions of nearly all of the world’s valuable copyright-protected literature and profits from displaying those works. In our view, such mass digitisation and exploitation far exceeds the bounds of fair use defence.”

Google hailed Thursday’s ruling.

“This has been a long road and we are absolutely delighted with the judgement,” a Google spokesperson said.

“As we have long said Google Books is in compliance with copyright law and acts like a card catalogue for the digital age giving users the ability to find books to buy or borrow.”

The case centres on a Google programme started in 2004 to create an electronic database of books that could be searchable by keywords.

Google has scanned more than 20 million books so far in the project. — AFP