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Contact: Syl Kacapyr
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E-mail: vpk6[at]cornell.edu

Researchers Rejoice: Cornell, HathiTrust Prevail in Copyright Suit
Decision Sets Precedent for Future Digitization Laws

ITHACA, N.Y. (Oct. 15, 2012) – A Federal District Court has dismissed a copyright infringement suit brought by the Author’s Guild, which would have prevented the digitizing of books at major universities across the country.

The Oct. 10 ruling also has major implications for future digital copyright laws, and will allow the defendants — HathiTrust, a partnership of major research institutions, and five universities including Cornell — to continue a partnership with Google to scan volumes of books from Cornell's collections.

Over 400,000 Cornell volumes have already been deposited to HathiTrust’s repository of over 10 million volumes managed by the University of Michigan. Anyone can search the database for a keyword in order to see the pages and number of times the word occurs, but the database does not provide full texts for copyrighted material.

The Authors Guild alleged that the initial scanning constituted "one of the largest copyright infringements in history." The guild also objected to a proposed plan (later dropped) for a system that would allow limited access to digital versions of orphan works, which are books whose copyright owners cannot be located.

Judge Harold Baer, Jr. found decisively that:

  • Scanning books to construct an index is the kind of fair and creative use that copyright should favor.
  • The full text of digital books, even those still under copyright, can be made available to visually-impaired students in conformance with the requirements of the Americans with Disability Act.
  • Because the orphan works system was never implemented, a lawsuit addressing it was not appropriate at this time.

Anne Kenney, Carl A. Kroch University Librarian at Cornell, praised the judge’s opinion, saying "libraries have traditionally been highly respectful of copyright while at the same time trying to do all they can to foster research and learning.

"The decision is a win-win for all involved. The judge found that no reasonable harm could accrue to authors from our actions," Kenney added. "And for Cornell students and researchers, the benefits that arise from the mass digitization of our printed collections, the reason why Cornell joined the Google project in the first place, will continue. I am particularly excited that we may be able to increase the easy availability of library material to visually-impaired students."

To learn more
Check out HathiTrust's statement on the decision, and visit the Library online.