Just in time for our conversation about copyright this Friday comes a major federal court decision regarding digitization of books by libraries. The case of Authors Guild, Inc. et al. v. HathiTrust et al. is related to but separate from the higher-profile case of Authors Guild et al. v. Google, which involved Google's large-scale book digitization project.

HathiTrust is, in its own words, "a partnership of major research institutions and libraries working to ensure that the cultural record is preserved and accessible long into the future." The Author's Guild describes itself as "the nation's leading advocate for writers' interests in effective copyright protection, fair contracts and free expression since it was founded as the Authors League of America in 1912."

In September, 2011, the Author's Guild and others sued HathiTrust for violation of copyright law. HathiTrust has been scanning books for purposes that they argue fall within the law's exceptions for "fair use." The Author's Guild sees the scanning as a dire threat to author's rights.

You can read the Guild's 2011 press release about its lawsuit on their website.

HathiTrust's website offers this response to the Guild's claims of copyright infringement as well as other resources for understanding the suit.

This September 2011 article on the website arstechnica offers a more neutral perspective.

Law Professor James Grimmelmann's website The Laboratorium has followed the case and offers broad coverage of copyright issues. Its post this evening explains the main consequences of the court's decision and links to the decision itself.

Copyright is a complicated area of the law. The HathiTrust case, the Google case, and the many cases in the news related to file sharing, file hosting, digital rights management, etc. can puzzle even the well-informed.

But as culture becomes increasingly digital, those who care about it must do their best to understand what these cases mean for the future of innovation and creativity.


  1. Unknown User (lmg19)

    I understand the intentions of HathiTrust were initially good. By digitizing these books, students would have more access to books from all over the world. However, I agree with the Author's Guild that HathiTrust violated the rights of authors with copyright-protected books.On the Author's Guild website they disdainfully inform the public that "Michigan announced plans to permit unlimited downloads by its students and faculty members of copyright-protected works it deems 'orphans' according to rules the school has established." Copyright isn't the only violation. It not only takes away the rights of the author by neglecting to request permission to digitize, but there must be some disputes over profit as well. I think the Author's Guild should complain that unlimited downloads will lead to loss in profit. If the download is free to all with unlimited access, the books lose their face value. Even if there is a fee for downloading a book from HathiTrust, who's to say the students and faculty members won't share the download with friends for free?

  2. Unknown User (kv2)

    Copyright is such a sketchy topic because of how innovative and advance the internet has become.  Anything can be easily be scanned and put on the internet and no one would ever know who put it up.  Copyright is important because it is like making sure you write your sources in your research papers.  It is just giving credit where credit is due.