Another Fair Use Victory in the Courts

The cause of fair use at academic libraries got a big boost on Wednesday, when a federal judge handed the HathiTrust Digital Library and its university partners (including the University of California) a resounding victory in a copyright-infringement lawsuit brought by the Authors Guild and other groups. In a summary judgment, the judge threw out the authors’ arguments that HathiTrust and its partners had trampled copyright law by preserving and making scanned works available for certain uses.

In his ruling, Judge Harold Baer Jr. of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan agreed with the HathiTrust defendants that their handling of the scanned works did not violate the law. “Although I recognize that the facts here may on some levels be without precedent, I am convinced that they fall safely within the provision of fair use,” he wrote. “I cannot imagine a definition of fair use that would not encompass the transformative uses made” by the defendants’ mass-digitization project.

Those uses include making copies for preservation and full-text searching and indexing. HathiTrust does not make copyrighted material openly available to the public. “The copies serve an entirely different purpose than the original works,” the judge wrote. He noted that HathiTrust’s search functions “have already given rise to new methods of academic inquiry such as text mining.”

“On every substantive issue, HathiTrust won,” said James Grimmelmann, a professor of law at New York Law School, in an analysis posted on his blog.

–Adapted from a story by Jennifer Howard in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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