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Corey Williams (staff)'s picture

District Dispatch: A win is a win – HathiTrust, libraries and fair use


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If you haven’t yet heard, on October 10, 2012, U.S. District Court Southern District of New York Judge Baer ruled in the Authors’ Guild, Inc, et al. v. HathiTrust, et al.  At the heart of the case was the Authors’ Guild’s (AG) assertion that the HathiTrust Digital Library’s (HDL) scanning and digitizing of works from several universities for inclusion into a digital library that allowed full-text searches, preservation of digitized works, and access for people with print disabilities violated copyright law.

The cliff notes version of the judge’s ruling is he flat-out disagrees with the Authors’ Guild.   Yep, you read right.  Libraries’ scanning and digitizing works to make them available via the HDL is fair use.  Searching the full-text of works is fair use. Preserving the digitized works is fair use.  Providing access to digitized works via the HDL to people with print disabilities is fair use.  Jonathan Band, the American Library Association’s (ALA) and Library Copyright Alliance’s (LCA) legal consulant and copyright expert, has written an excellent statement in response to the judge’s ruling.

In addition, many others have weighed in on the judge’s ruling including, but not limited to:

And, so what about those orphaned works anyway? The plaintiffs made a big hubbub about the potential for orphans (those works whose copyright holder can’t be identified or found) to be included in the HDL.  Ultimately, the judge’s ruling has no real effect – as he notes in his opinion under section D. Ripeness of the Orphan Works Project,

The Complaint requests a declaration that the “distribution and display of copyrighted works through the HathiTrust Orphan Works Project [OWP] will infringe the copyrights of Plaintiffs and others likely to be affected” and an injunction that prohibits the OWP…Plaintiffs seek a ruling on the OWP as it will exist, and not specifically as it existed at the moment that the initial complaint was filed….Adjudication as to the OWP is not ripe for judicial review.

However, that didn’t stop the Authors’ Guild from focusing on orphans in their public response to the judge’s ruling.

So, where does this ruling leave us – meaning libraries and the public? In very good form! Three cheers for fair use!

Corey Williams
Associate Director, Office of Government Relations
American Library Association