With the Google Book Search Settlement in tatters, its fragile alliance splintering, and the parties now on a pretrial schedule, the Authors Guild last week expanded its infringement claims by suing a consortium of university libraries over a digital library initiative.
The suit, filed September 12 in New York by the Authors Guild, along with two international writers’ groups and eight individual authors, alleges that HathiTrust, a digital preservation initiative, is built with millions of “unauthorized” scans created by Google. The suit seeks an injunction barring the libraries from future digitization of copyrighted works; from providing works to Google; and from proceeding with a plan to release some 140 so-called “orphan works.” Since the filing, Michigan has suspended that release after discovering errors in its process for identifying orphan works. The suit also asks the court to “impound” and hold in escrow all the “unauthorized” scans “pending an appropriate act of Congress.”
Formed in 2008, HathiTrust is a collaborative numbering more than 50 partners, with a digital collection of nearly 10 million digitized volumes, most created by Google’s scanners. “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.
Officials at HathiTrust expressed surprise over the suit and said they fully respect copyright. HathiTrust only offers full display of books determined to be out of copyright, and bibliographic information for titles still under copyright. There has not been any security breach of the archive, HathiTrust officials said, and the suit does not allege that any of the books in HathiTrust have been compromised.
Authors Guild officials said they filed suit after learning of the libraries’ plan to make a handful of orphan works available to students. Orphan books are books for which a copyright owner cannot be determined, mostly out-of-print books published between 1923 and 1963.
Under its now suspended plan, Michigan librarians research rights and place a proposed orphan work’s bibliographic information online for 90 days. If no legal rights holder materializes, the works would then be made accessible to the UM community. The first 140 orphan works were set for release on October 13, but will now be delayed indefinitely. “Once we create a more robust, transparent, and fully documented process,” a statement from the Michigan libraries reads, “we will proceed with the work, because we remain certain that our proposed uses of orphan works are lawful.” —A.A.