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Appeals Court Rules HathiTrust Digital Library Is Fair Use

June 11, 2014

laptop, book and glasses


​The creation of a full-text searchable book database is a ‘‘quintessentially transformative use’’ of a copyrighted work, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled yesterday, and therefore it is lawful to copy and store the books electronically without the permission of the authors and publishers.

ACE submitted a brief last year in the case Authors Guild v. HathiTrust Digital Library, in which the Authors Guild charged that the HathiTrust digital repository was violating copyright by making some of its members’ work freely available.

HathiTrust is a partnership of 80 major research institutions and libraries that have collaborated to digitize their collections to build a comprehensive online archive.

In addition to creating an unprecedented resource for scholarly research, one of the goals is to enable the digital archive to be accessible to persons with print disabilities. The university libraries (University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin System, Indiana University, University of California and Cornell University (NY) are the HathiTrust institutions involved) have digitized their collections for preservation, searching and use by the visually impaired.

The appeals court decision also addressed this aspect of the HathiTrust archive, ruling that it is permissible to distribute the books in alternative forms to people with disabilities.

The consensus of higher education copyright experts is that this case is crucial for the future of distance learning and the digital age in education. According to ACE General Counsel Ada Meloy, a reversal would have been a serious defeat for the doctrine of fair use and the advancement of technology in higher education. 

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