Monthly Archives: February 2012

Plaintiffs Seek Fair Use Ruling in Mass Book Digitization Case

Plaintiffs filed a motion last night asking Judge Baer to rule on the fair use defense in the HathiTrust lawsuit. At issue is a mass book digitization program through which Google converted millions of copyright-protected library books into machine-readable digital files that were duplicated and distributed to university libraries and HathiTrust, an online digital repository.

This is the first motion that squarely places before a court the question of whether the unauthorized mass digitization of library books is a fair use under U.S. law.

Background on the HathiTrust Lawsuit

Authors groups from Australia, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Quebec, the U.K., and the U.S., along with twelve individual authors, brought suit against the University of Michigan, the University of California, the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, and Cornell University and HathiTrust last fall. The lawsuit seeks impoundment of the unauthorized scans, pending appropriate Congressional action.

Last June, the University of Michigan, which oversees HathiTrust, announced plans to permit unlimited downloads by its students and faculty members of “orphaned” books (some consider works whose rights-owners cannot be found after a diligent search to be “orphans”). Michigan devised a set of procedures — including a protocol for searching for an author and posting the names of “orphan work candidates” at the HathiTrust website for 90 days – to determine whether it would deem a work an “orphan.” Several other schools joined the project in August.

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 Amazon vs. IPG — Here We Go Again

By Karen Holt

It seems like 2010 all over again this week, as Amazon.com has once more banished thousands of e-books from its site. This time, the books are titles distributed by Independent Publishers Group (IPG), whose president, Mark Suchomel, informed its publishing clients of the move via an email alert sent on Tuesday, February 21st. The story was picked up the next day by Publishers Marketplace.

“Amazon.com is putting pressure on publishers and distributors to change their terms for electronic and print books to be more favorable toward Amazon,” Suchomel wrote. “Our electronic book agreement recently came up for renewal, and Amazon took the opportunity to propose new terms for electronic and print purchases that would have substantially changed your revenue from the sale of both.”

Full text of the letter is available here.

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Colbert Report: Ann Patchett Talks Amazon v. Brick & Mortar Booksellers

Novelist Ann Patchett discusses the closing of two large bookstores in Nashville, Tennessee, where she lives. She took action, opening Parnassus Books with a business partner in November.

Patchett invites Steve Colbert to compare Parnassus and Amazon for himself when he publishes his next book. Here’s the video clip:

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Amazon, Innovation, and the Rewards of the Free Market

Our article from two weeks ago, Publishing’s Ecosystem on the Brink: The Backstory, and similar articles spur frequent comments online that Amazon is simply reaping the rewards of its innovation, that its growing dominance of book publishing is merely a demonstration that the free market is functioning as it should. This isn’t really what’s been happening.

Useful innovation should of course be rewarded, but we’ve long had laws in place (limits on the duration and scope of patent protections, antitrust laws, stricter regulation of industries considered natural monopolies) that aim to prevent innovators and others from capturing a market or an industry. There’s good reason for this: those who capture a market tend to be a bit rough on other participants in the market. They also tend to stop innovating.

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