Authors Guild, Australian Society of Authors, Quebec Writers Union Sue Five U.S. Universities

Suit seeks impoundment of unauthorized scans of 7 million books

This afternoon, we filed suit against HathiTrust, the University of Michigan and four other universities over their storage and use of millions of copyright-protected books. The press release follows.

AUTHORS AND AUTHORS’ GROUPS FROM AUSTRALIA, QUEBEC, THE U.K., AND U.S. SUE HATHITRUST, THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN, AND FOUR OTHER U.S. UNIVERSITIES FOR COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT

Digital Files Provided by Google at Issue, As Plaintiffs Seek to Impound Unauthorized Scans of 7 Million Copyright-Protected Books, Pending Congressional Action

NEW YORK – The Authors Guild, the Australian Society of Authors, the Union Des Écrivaines et des Écrivains Québécois (UNEQ), and eight individual authors have filed a copyright infringement lawsuit in federal court against HathiTrust, the University of Michigan, the University of California, the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, and Cornell University. Plaintiff authors include children’s book author and illustrator Pat Cummings, novelists Angelo Loukakis, Roxana Robinson, Danièle Simpson, and Fay Weldon, poet André Roy, Columbia University professor and Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro, and Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning biographer T.J. Stiles.

The universities obtained from Google unauthorized scans of an estimated 7 million copyright-protected books, the rights to which are held by authors in dozens of countries. The universities have pooled the unauthorized files in a repository organized by the University of Michigan called HathiTrust. In June, Michigan announced plans to permit unlimited downloads by its students and faculty members of copyright-protected works it deems “orphans” according to rules the school has established. Other universities joined in Michigan’s project in August.

The first set of so-called orphans, 27 works by French, Russian, and American authors, are scheduled to be released to an estimated 250,000 students and faculty members on October 13th. An additional 140 books, including works in Spanish, Yiddish, French, and Russian, are to be released starting in November.

“This is an upsetting and outrageous attempt to dismiss authors’ rights,” said Angelo Loukakis, executive director of the Australian Society of Authors. “Maybe it doesn’t seem like it to some, but writing books is an author’s real-life work and livelihood. This group of American universities has no authority to decide whether, when or how authors forfeit their copyright protection. These aren’t orphaned books, they’re abducted books.”

“I was stunned when I learned of this,” said Danièle Simpson, president of UNEQ. “How are authors from Quebec, Italy or Japan to know that their works have been determined to be ‘orphans’ by a group in Ann Arbor, Michigan? If these colleges can make up their own rules, then won’t every college and university, in every country, want to do the same?”

The complaint also questions the security of the 7 million unauthorized digital files. The numbers are staggering. The universities have, without permission, digitized and loaded onto HathiTrust’s online servers thousands of editions, in various translations, of works by Simone de Beauvoir, Italo Calvino, Bernard Clavel, Umberto Eco, Carlos Fuentes, Günter Grass, Peter Handke, Michel Houellebecq, Clarice Lispector, Mario Vargas Llosa, Herta Müller, Haruki Murakami, Kenzaburō Ōe, Octavio Paz, and Jose Saramago, among countless other authors. Works from nearly every nation have been digitized. HathiTrust’s databases house more than 65,000 works published in the year 2001, for example, including thousands of works published that year in China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Russia, Spain, and the U.K., and hundreds from Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Mexico, The Netherlands, The Philippines, South Korea, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam.

“These books, because of the universities’ and Google’s unlawful actions, are now at needless, intolerable digital risk,” said Authors Guild president Scott Turow. “Even if it weren’t for this preposterous, ad-hoc initiative, we’d have a major problem with the digital repository. Authors shouldn’t have to trust their works to a group that’s making up the rules as it goes along.”

Google’s library scanning project is already the subject of a federal class-action lawsuit in New York. A status conference in that case is scheduled before Judge Denny Chin this Thursday, September 15.

Attorneys Edward Rosenthal and Jeremy Goldman of Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz are representing plaintiffs.

View the complaint.

Comments: more
  • Ruth Ann Hixson

    I shall write my senators and Congressmen immediately. This threatens the very livelihood of author. It shows no consideration for the long hours of work writers put into their books. I am apalled to know that holding a copyright is becoming useless.

  • Ruth Ann Hixson

    I shall write my senators and Congressmen immediately. This threatens the very livelihood of author. It shows no consideration for the long hours of work writers put into their books. I am apalled to know that holding a copyright is becoming useless.

  • Ganoob

    Keep up the good work!

  • Ganoob

    Keep up the good work!

  • Billmarsano

    I detect much ignorance of copyright laws and authors’ rights here.  Digi-lib and other please note: Copyright means no one can COPY [by scanning or other means] a work without permission of the author/copyright holder.  These scanned works can now be distributed without payment to the authors: that is the theft. This is an enlarged version of what many college professors have done for year: illegally copied copyrighted works and given free copies to students for use in their classes. As for who is being robbed,  several names are cited above; it’s clearly impractical to include several million names in a press release.

    We are dealing here with copyright held by authors. In some cases, copyright is held by the publisher of a work. Authors may transfer it to a publisher; some publishers require it. For example any freelancer who writes for the New York Times (and most other US papers and magazines) must agree in advance to surrender his copyright or he will not be permitted to write for that publication.  This sort of strong-arming and bullying is reprehensible, because such publishers then re-sell the material and share none of the proceeds with the authors. (And it’s why many freelancers, myself included, will not write for them.) This may be what ProggieMan refers to apropos of RIAA and recording artists, but it is an entirely separate matter from the wholesale scanning of books whose copyrights are held  by their authors.

    And yes, Digi-lib, UMich IS a rich institution. If you had its successful football program, is generous alums and boosters, and its taxpayer funding, you’d be rich too.
    But rich or not, its being a public institution devoted to education does not legitimize theft.

    If you confiscate a copyrighted work you make it valueless to its author, who cannot sell what you give away free.

    • digi-lib

      Your definition of copyright ignores the Fair Use clause  (17USC107)  “… the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies
      or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for
      purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including
      multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an
      infringement of copyright.” 

      If The Authors Guild was truly concerned about the rights of authors of orphan works, they would devote resources to finding out who the several million authors are, instead of suing the people who are actually trying to do so.  Until then the guild will have a hard time demonstrating how these unknown people have lost income from their titles that have gone out of print. 

      Hypothetically, if you had a work that was out of print, how would you demonstrate your inability to sell it? 

  • Billmarsano

    I detect much ignorance of copyright laws and authors’ rights here.  Digi-lib and other please note: Copyright means no one can COPY [by scanning or other means] a work without permission of the author/copyright holder.  These scanned works can now be distributed without payment to the authors: that is the theft. This is an enlarged version of what many college professors have done for year: illegally copied copyrighted works and given free copies to students for use in their classes. As for who is being robbed,  several names are cited above; it’s clearly impractical to include several million names in a press release.

    We are dealing here with copyright held by authors. In some cases, copyright is held by the publisher of a work. Authors may transfer it to a publisher; some publishers require it. For example any freelancer who writes for the New York Times (and most other US papers and magazines) must agree in advance to surrender his copyright or he will not be permitted to write for that publication.  This sort of strong-arming and bullying is reprehensible, because such publishers then re-sell the material and share none of the proceeds with the authors. (And it’s why many freelancers, myself included, will not write for them.) This may be what ProggieMan refers to apropos of RIAA and recording artists, but it is an entirely separate matter from the wholesale scanning of books whose copyrights are held  by their authors.

    And yes, Digi-lib, UMich IS a rich institution. If you had its successful football program, is generous alums and boosters, and its taxpayer funding, you’d be rich too.
    But rich or not, its being a public institution devoted to education does not legitimize theft.

    If you confiscate a copyrighted work you make it valueless to its author, who cannot sell what you give away free.

    • digi-lib

      Your definition of copyright ignores the Fair Use clause  (17USC107)  “… the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies
      or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for
      purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including
      multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an
      infringement of copyright.” 

      If The Authors Guild was truly concerned about the rights of authors of orphan works, they would devote resources to finding out who the several million authors are, instead of suing the people who are actually trying to do so.  Until then the guild will have a hard time demonstrating how these unknown people have lost income from their titles that have gone out of print. 

      Hypothetically, if you had a work that was out of print, how would you demonstrate your inability to sell it? 

  • Marianne Dyson

    The Authors Guild is not a “rich corporation,” but an organization of authors trying to stop the rich corporations from stealing their intellectual property. As an author, I’m extremely grateful to them for bringing this suit.

    • digi-lib

      Who’s property is being stolen?  The plaintiffs have not produced anyone who can claim that their intellectual property has been stolen.  What are the rich corporations?  Are you referring to public education institutions like University of Michigan?

      • Toppersherwood

        Yes. My contract with one of these universities defined *limited* printing rights of a book I wrote and copyrighted in 1994. Our agreement clearly states that they have rights to produce and sell “hard copies” of the book to bookstores. Period. They had no right to digitize the book and put it up, cost-free, for everyone to read on the web. 

        This was wa-ay outside of our agreement – not to mention outside my financial interest. (Their new goal: Drawing readers/visitors to their entrepreneurial “digital library.”)My book is two years of my labor. Copyright is in my name. I am not a professor, motivated by “publish or parish.” I write to sell books and make a living.   If the university press sells all their hard copies and “cannot” make more money on it, fine. The rights go back to me and try elsewhere. Only in their own heads to they get to steal — yes, steal (pirate) — my work for their free, online library, robbing my ability to resell limited rights to another publisher….

        • Michael Ellis

          They put it on the web for everyone to read?

  • Marianne Dyson

    The Authors Guild is not a “rich corporation,” but an organization of authors trying to stop the rich corporations from stealing their intellectual property. As an author, I’m extremely grateful to them for bringing this suit.

    • digi-lib

      Who’s property is being stolen?  The plaintiffs have not produced anyone who can claim that their intellectual property has been stolen.  What are the rich corporations?  Are you referring to public education institutions like University of Michigan?

      • Anonymous

        Yes. My contract with a university press — not one of these — defined *limited* printing rights of a book I wrote and copyrighted in 1994. Our agreement clearly states that they have rights to produce and sell “hard copies” of the book to bookstores. Period.

        They had no right to digitize the book – as they did – and put it up, cost-free, for everyone to read on the web. 

        This was wa-ay outside of our agreement – not to mention outside my financial interest. (Their new goal: Drawing readers/visitors to their entrepreneurial “digital library.”)

        My book is two years of my labor. Copyright is in my name. I am not a professor, motivated by “publish or parish.” I write to sell books and make a living.   If the university press sells all their hard copies and “cannot” make more money on it, fine. The rights go back to me and I can try elsewhere. Or sit on it and wait….

        Only in their own heads to they get to steal — yes, steal (pirate) — my work for their free, online library, robbing my ability to resell limited rights to another publisher….

        • Michael Ellis

          They put it on the web for everyone to read?

  • Billmarsano

    I’d be interested to know, Dickcheney, how this suit can be characterized as frivolous. In any event, I can see a positive value in computer hacking all of a sudden.

  • Billmarsano

    I’d be interested to know, Dickcheney, how this suit can be characterized as frivolous. In any event, I can see a positive value in computer hacking all of a sudden.

  • Dickcheney

    Like they say, you can sue anyone for anything in the United States. Whether or not a frivolous suit such as this gets brought to court is another thing.

  • Dickcheney

    Like they say, you can sue anyone for anything in the United States. Whether or not a frivolous suit such as this gets brought to court is another thing.

  • Anonymous

    I smell RIAA all over this. The RIAA have sued and successfully intimidated, threatened and litigated themselves over $100 MILLION from music listeners while the artists have not seen a PENNY! This is NOT to protect the artists, authors and inventors, this is to enrich the corporations who now hold and profit
    from their copyrights.

    The basis of copyright law was to encourage the arts and protect the artist NOT TO ENRICH CORPORATIONS!!!

    “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;” `US Constitution

    • LK

      As an author, I can tell you, buddy, there ain’t no rich corporations involved in protecting so-called orphaned books, BECAUSE THEY AREN’T MAKING ANY MONEY FROM THEM.  Doh, do you even understand what a so-called ‘orphan’ is?  It’s a book that’s out of print, and they can’t find the author.  Get it?  The RIAA baloney, you completely reveal your cluelessness about the entire publishing industry.  IF you actually cared about protected the artists, you’d be all on board with this.

  • Anonymous

    I smell RIAA all over this. The RIAA have sued and successfully intimidated, threatened and litigated themselves over $100 MILLION from music listeners while the artists have not seen a PENNY! This is NOT to protect the artists, authors and inventors, this is to enrich the corporations who now hold and profit
    from their copyrights.

    The basis of copyright law was to encourage the arts and protect the artist NOT TO ENRICH CORPORATIONS!!!

    “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;” `US Constitution

    • LK

      As an author, I can tell you, buddy, there ain’t no rich corporations involved in protecting so-called orphaned books, BECAUSE THEY AREN’T MAKING ANY MONEY FROM THEM.  Doh, do you even understand what a so-called ‘orphan’ is?  It’s a book that’s out of print, and they can’t find the author.  Get it?  The RIAA baloney, you completely reveal your cluelessness about the entire publishing industry.  IF you actually cared about protected the artists, you’d be all on board with this.

  • Billmarsano

    Let large numbers of writers invade UMich classes, deeming them orphans under whatever rules they choose to invent. Such as, UMich has not contacted me to advbise that it still requires admission and charges tuition; therefore it is an orphaned institution of higher learning. And grand theft.

    • digi-lib

      I hope you’ll follow up and let us all know how that works out for you.

  • Billmarsano

    Let large numbers of writers invade UMich classes, deeming them orphans under whatever rules they choose to invent. Such as, UMich has not contacted me to advbise that it still requires admission and charges tuition; therefore it is an orphaned institution of higher learning. And grand theft.

    • digi-lib

      I hope you’ll follow up and let us all know how that works out for you.