Court papers filed yesterday evening brought to an end the Guild’s copyright infringement lawsuit against the group of research libraries known as the HathiTrust. The Guild claimed the library group infringed by reproducing copyright-protected books for inclusion in its HathiTrust Digital Library, a searchable database.
The case arose in June 2011 when the HathiTrust announced its “Orphan Works Project,” which would begin freely distributing digital copies of “orphan works”—books that are still under copyright, but whose rightsholders cannot be found. HaithiTrust abandoned the Orphan Works Project shortly after the lawsuit was filed. The Guild had demonstrated that the copyright owners of most of the books were easily found, forcing HaithiTrust to acknowledge that its search methodology was flawed.
The resolution of the case follows a June 2014 decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which approved two limited uses of the HathiTrust Digital Library—full-text search and display to the print-disabled—but sent down to the district court the question of whether the copies made by HathiTrust for “preservation” or “replacement” purposes were done in accordance with the copyright law’s exceptions governing libraries, which require that libraries determine that the original was either damaged or lost and not obtainable at a reasonable price before making a copy to replace the original.
The agreement filed in the lower court should resolve that question. In it, the libraries represent that their copying complies with these requirements and will continue to do so unless and until they provide written notice to the Authors Guild. If the libraries change their copying practices, or if they unilaterally decide to distribute so-called orphan works under a new iteration of the abandoned Orphan Works Project, the Guild will have the right to bring a new lawsuit.
“Our pursuit of this claim was ultimately a success,” said Authors Guild Executive Director Mary Rasenberger. “It led directly to HathiTrust’s 2011 abandonment of the Orphan Works Project. Moreover, the stipulation filed today resolves one of our biggest concerns with the HathiTrust Digital Library—namely, that its copying wasn’t done in accordance with the rules for library copying laid out in the Copyright Act.”
A related case—Authors Guild v. Google—is currently under consideration by the Second Circuit, which heard oral argument from both parties on December 3.