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The Google Art Project: An Analysis from a Legal and Social Perspective on Copyright Implications
Journal of the Patent and Trademark Office Society (2014)
  • Katrina Wu, University of San Diego

The Google Art Project is an ambitious attempt by Google to curate worldwide artwork online in the highest resolution possible. Google accomplishes this by partnering with museums where museums provide access to art collections and Google provides the technology to capture high quality images. Under this existing model, Google places the burden of copyright clearances on museums and removes images from online if requested by copyright owners. An endeavor like the Google Art Project is not unprecedented however, when Google attempted to put the world’s books online under the Google Books Project, scanning millions of titles and offering snippets for users to view online. The legal strategy seen in the Books Project differs drastically from the Art Project, where Google proceeded aggressively with the Books Project, going forward without preemptively obtaining copyright clearances from authors and relying on fair use as a defense against infringement liability. As a result of a more restrained legal strategy for the Art Project, a lot of contemporary and modern art is absent from Google’s collection as newer works tend to be still under copyright protection.

The paper addresses the question of what the best legal strategy for the Google Art Project is, considering Google’s previous strategy with the Books Project as well as various stakeholder interests such as the artists, museums, Google, and the public. An evaluation of the pros and cons leads to the conclusion that a restrained legal strategy is more suitable for the Art Project as opposed to an aggressive one used in the Books Project. Followed by the legal analysis, the paper addresses major arguments against the Google Art Project from a societal perspective, including concerns for Google’s monopolistic power, displacement of traditional museums, and potential exploitation of museums. In addressing the problem of missing contemporary art, the paper proposes two measures: monetizing the Google Art Project to obtain funding for copyright clearances and enhancing the terms and conditions for use on the Google website.

  • Google,
  • Google Art Project,
  • Google Books,
  • Copyright,
  • Fair Use,
  • Fair Use Defense,
  • Art Law,
  • Art Digitization,
  • Online Art,
  • Museum,
  • Legal Strategy,
  • Business Strategy,
  • First Sale Doctrine,
  • Monetization of Website,
  • Artist Rights,
  • Public Trust Doctrine,
  • Google 20% Project
Publication Date
Winter December, 2014
Publisher Statement
Work first published in the Journal of the Patent and Trademark Office Society, Volume 96, Issue 4.
Citation Information
Katrina Wu. "The Google Art Project: An Analysis from a Legal and Social Perspective on Copyright Implications" Journal of the Patent and Trademark Office Society Vol. 96 Iss. 4 (2014)
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