Narrow Fair Use Ruling Permits Limited Library Uses, Shoots Down Replacement Copying

We received yesterday’s Second Circuit decision in Authors Guild v. HathiTrust with mixed feelings.  The decision was not a total victory for either side.  While the Court, over our objections, allowed HathiTrust to maintain its database of digitized books in light of the present security protections, the Court was clear that any breach of that security leaves HathiTrust at risk of future litigation.  We also were pleased that the Court refused to issue the blanket approval HathiTrust requested to use the database to replace books in its holdings that had reached the end of their physical life and vacated the District Court decision on that point.  Overall, we also were heartened that the Court, while approving two very limited uses of the database—for word search and display to the disabled—emphasized that the decision did not extend to the display of the text of the books to all HathiTrust users, or even authorize universal display of snippets.

The Authors Guild remains committed to the notion that the digital revolution cannot come at the cost of authors’ rights to preserve writing as a livelihood.  Our pursuit of this claim led directly to HathiTrust’s abandonment of the Orphan Works Project, which would have posed a major threat to authors’ rights by allowing these libraries to fully display their digital copies of in-copyright works with no more basis than the bare claim that they couldn’t find the rights-holders.  The related case against Google will come before the Court next.  We continue to believe that it is fundamentally unfair for Google to make use of the entire text of copyrighted books for its own commercial purposes without any compensation to authors.

Comments: more
  • jem jem

    From Page 31-5 of the above ruling: “Weighing the factors together, we conclude that the doctrine of fair use allows the Libraries to provide full digital access to copyrighted works to their print‐disabled patrons.”

    From National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Intervenor Statement 10JUN2014:

    “Among other things, the ruling means that libraries need not rely on the provisions of copyright law relating specifically to access by the disabled in order to provide access to their collections for print-disabled readers.”

    Page 31 Footnote 7: “In light of our holding, we need not consider whether the disability‐access use is protected under the Chafee Amendment, 17 U.S.C. § 121.”

    Association of American Publishers (AAP) Amicus brief (In support of Appellants) Doc 75 Pg 14 references a US Supreme Court decision 2010: ‘Courts should not interpret any statutory provision “in a manner that would render another provision superfluous.”’

  • patsilver09

    Thank goodness the Authors Guild is doing its best to protect the rights of we who earn a living with our writing.

  • David Branner

    With respect: do you not wonder if all of copyright law has become irrelevant to the way people “consume content” now? I deal extensively with people a generation younger than I am, and most of them seem to feel that it is normal and acceptable to read books they haven’t paid for in some form — and the same with listening to music and watching movies. If you ask otherwise law-abiding people about copyright they usually answer in terms of corporations, rather than the creators of works, being the owners of the terrific majority of copyrighted matter. It is hard to argue persuasively about the rights and wrongs of copyright infringement in this environment.

    If disregard for copyright is now the overwhelming will of society, what kind of enforcement can there ever be, whatever laws the creators of works manage to get passed?