With the Google Settlement in tatters and the case expected to soon head back to litigation, the Authors Guild Monday announced that it has doubled down on its infringement claims by suing a consortium of university libraries over its digital initiative known as HathiTrust. According to the complaint, filed in New York, the Author’s Guild, along with the Australian Society of Authors, the Union Des Écrivaines et des Écrivains Québécois (UNEQ), and eight individual authors have filed a copyright infringement suit against the consortium, led by the University of Michigan, but which now numbers more than 50 partners, and nearly 10 million volumes.
In its lawsuit, the Authors Guild alleges that 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 suit represents a stunning turn of events as the University of Michigan and the Authors Guild have stumped together for more than two years for approval of the Google Settlement. Now that the Google Settlement appears headed for an ultimate demise (there is a status conference set for September 15th in Manhattan), that fragile alliance appears to be fractured.
Notably, the complaint only “questions” the security of the libraries’ digital files, but does not cite evidence of widespread piracy, beyond allegations that the copies themselves are "unauthorized," even though the participating libraries purchased the copies of the books they digitized, and the initiative has been operating for years. “These books, because of the universities’ and Google’s unlawful actions, are now at needless, intolerable digital risk,” said Authors Guild president Scott Turow in a statement. “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."
Officials at HathiTrust, however, have long asserted that they fully respect authors' copyrights. HathiTrust offers full display of books determined to be out of copyright and snippets and bibliograhic information for titles still under copyright. With less than a third of HathiTrust collections in the public domain, the vast majority of works are inaccessible. However, in October, the libraries announced they would begin to offer access to a collection of so-called orphan works, an action that, combined with the collapse of the Google Settlement, appears to have spurred this action.
The suit seeks an injunction preventing HathiTrust from distributing or displaying any of the digitized content and asks that the court put a stop to the HathiTrust Orphans Work Project.