Court of Appeals Sides With HathiTrust in Fair Use Case

The Second Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals issued a verdict today in Author’s Guild vs. Hathi Trust, a lawsuit levied against the full-text database on the grounds that providing digital copies of protected works violates authors' rights. First tried in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in 2012, the case questioned whether HathiTrust’s efforts to “provide long-term preservation and access services for public domain and in copyright content” could be protected under the doctrine of fair use.

Today, a three-judge panel upheld the lower court’s ruling in HathiTrust’s favor. Presiding judges were Barrington D. Parker, John M. Walker, Jr., and Jose A. Cabranes.

While the lower court took a lofty argument in favor of fair use, the Second Circuit looked to a more technical definition of transformation. "Contrary to what the District Court implied, a use does not become transformative by making an 'invaluable contribution to the progress of science and cultivation of the arts,'” Judge Parker wrote for the Court of Appeals. "Added value or utility is not the test: a transformative work is one that serves a new and different function from the original work and is not a substitute for it."

For analysis, take a look at this post by James Grimmelmann, Professor of Law at University of Maryland, which includes a breakdown of the factors for fair use in this case. The Courthouse News Service provides a detailed history of the case, as does the Electronic Frontier Foundation (who joined the American Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries, and the Association of Research Libraries in an amicus brief in support of HathiTrust). 

A full text copy of the opinion is available at InfoDOCKET.