HathiTrust Ruling Great News For Libraries and Fair Use


Libraries are celebrating today over news of yesterdays ruling in favor of the defendants in the case of the Author's Guild v. HathiTrust. Federal District Court Judge Harold Baer, Jr. of the Southern District of New York ruled that HathiTrust's activities qualify as examples of fair use primarily due to their transformative nature, and that those activities therefore do not constitute copyright infringement. In addition, the opinion clarified that asserting Section 108 rights does not limit libraries' fair use rights. James Grimmelman sums up the main points in his Laboratorium post:

  • Section 108 on library privileges doesn’t limit the scope of fair use.
  • A search index and access for the print-disabled are both fair uses.
  • Search indexing is a transformative use.
  • The libraries aren’t making commercial uses, even though they partnered with Google to get the scans.
  • The plaintiffs haven’t proven that HathiTrust is creating any security risks.
  • There is no market for scanning and print-disabled access, nor is one likely to develop.
  • UM is required under the ADA to provide equal access to the print-disabled, and is allowed to under Section 121 of the Copyright Act

Notably, the ruling did not address one aspect of the original complaint related to the Orphan Works Project, intended to identify and allow full access to books with indeterminable copyright owners. As the project never got off the ground once the lawsuit was filed, the judge stated that the lawfulness of this activity could not be evaluated at this time. 

The blogosphere has already produced several articles from the scholarly community summarizing the ruling and providing preliminary analysis of what it means, including: 

In addition, Nancy Sims, otherwise known as Copyright Librarian, provides further analysis of the fair use pieces, as well as a nice explanation of the Motion for Summary Judgment and why winning on summary judgment is significant. See "Author's Guild v HathiTrust: A Win for Copyright's Public Interest Purpose."

Matthew Sag of Loyola University Chicago offers his take on how this is also a big win for the digital humanities in "HathiTrust wins on fair use and just about everything else." 

For insight into a different aspect of HT and copyright, also see Kevin Smith's article "Steering an Elephant | Peer to Peer Review," (coincidentally) published today in Library Journal.