Authors' Group Sues Universities and HathiTrust

September 13, 2011

The Authors Guild on Monday sued the HathiTrust (a consortium of universities) as well as Cornell and Indiana Universities and the Universities of California, Michigan and Wisconsin, charging widespread copyright violations. The universities and the trust have worked with Google on its project to digitize books (a project now on hold) and on a recent effort to release to their campus communities digitized copies of "orphan works" on which copyright has expired. The suit charges the universities with moving ahead without being sure that the works are truly copyright-free. “This is an upsetting and outrageous attempt to dismiss authors’ rights,” Angelo Loukakis, executive director of the Australian Society of Authors, said in a statement about the suit. “Maybe it doesn’t seem like it to some, but writing books is an author’s real-life work and livelihood. This group of American universities has no authority to decide whether, when or how authors forfeit their copyright protection. These aren’t orphaned books, they’re abducted books.”

John Wilkin, executive director of the HathiTrust, said that the organization hasn't received official notice of the suit yet. But he said via e-mail that the organization was surprised because "we've been in communications with the Authors Guild and had scheduled a meeting to discuss our efforts on orphan works determinations and uses." He said that the trust and its members "have only made lawful uses of the digitized volumes we store online. Our proposed uses of the orphan works are lawful, as well, and constitute important scholarly and academic uses." He added that it is important to note the parameters of use planned: "Only in those cases where we are unable to determine a rights holder for an in-copyright work will we provide access, and then only to authenticated users at partner academic institutions that have purchased corresponding print copies of those works."

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