Book Scanning Research Group Prevails In Authors Guild Copyright Lawsuit

By Joseph Mandour on October 11, 2012

books Los Angeles – The Authors Guild on Wednesday lost its copyright infringement case against the HathiTrust over its project to scan millions of books in a massive digital preservation effort, as a New York federal judge ruled that the project counts as fair use.

The HathiTrust’s scanning of the books constitutes a transformative act and falls within the scope of fair use, Judge Harold Baer Jr. ruled in granting the HathiTrust summary judgment. The copies are protected to the extent that the guild has established a prima facie case of infringement, he said.

The Authors Guild filed the HathiTrust infringement lawsuit in September 2011 as a sister case to its allegations against Google Inc. over its own book scanning and digitization program.

HathiTrust’s collective of researchers and academic institutions, in conjunction with Google, engaged in an unprecedented effort to create digital copies of a significant portion of the works in their libraries without the permission of authors or other copyright holders, resulting in one of the largest instances of copyright infringement in history, the guild said.

The totality of the fair use factors in the case, though, suggest that copyright law’s “goal of promoting the progress of science” would be better served by allowing the use than by preventing it, according to the judge.

“Although I recognize that the facts here may on some levels be without precedent, I am convinced that they fall safely within the protection of fair use such that there is no genuine issue of material fact,” Judge Baer said.

He was especially impressed with the HathiTrust’s efforts to expand access to the works in its project to print-disabled individuals, such as the blind.

The judge said he could not imagine a definition of fair use that would not encompass HathiTrust’s transformative uses and would require that he terminate “this invaluable contribution to the progress of science and cultivation of the arts that at the same time effectuates the ideals espoused by the [Americans with Disabilities Act].”

Regarding HathiTrust’s orphan works program, which involves books for which the copyright holder is unknown or cannot be located, the judge said the guild’s claims were not ripe for adjudication.

“Were I to enjoin the OWP, I would do so in the absence of crucial information about what that program will look like should it come to pass and whom it will impact,” he said.

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