Libraries, Google, and the Transformation of Fair Use
October 11, 2012 11:56 AM   Subscribe

The Hathi Trust, a partnership between 66 universities and 3 higher education consortia, is breathing a little easier now that Judge Harold Baer, Jr. of New York's Southern District has found that the Trust was within its fair use rights to allow Google to scan member library holdings, and then making the resulting files available for the reading impaired, and for use in search indexing and data mining. While this is excellent news for the educational institutions involved, it doesn't completely exonerate Google's role in the scanning project. It's notable that just last week Google abandoned it's own fair use claim in settling a different case involving the same book scanning project. Of the four factors used when considering fair use cases, Judge Baer ruled on the side of the Hathi Trust on all four.
posted by Toekneesan (6 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Well, this is pretty awesome. It's also going to be useful for anyone making a freely licenced equivalent*, since a ruling against Hathi Trust would have meant it was almost impossible for anyone to replicate Google's work.

* Internet Archive, this quite possibly means you.
posted by jaduncan at 12:20 PM on October 11, 2012

In rejecting the deal for orphaned works, Chin said Congress, not he, should “establish a mechanism for exploiting unclaimed books.”

*pulls up a chair*
posted by mullingitover at 12:22 PM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Hathi Trust is crazily conservative about some copyright aspects of their work, excepting less restrictive access for the print disabled. Despite basically being a US organization (as I understand it), they block non-US IP addresses from accessing books with copyright dates 1872-1923, lest they run afoul of foreign copyright law. For in-copyright works, they do provide a basic search function, but don't provide any snippets whatsoever. They've tried to push the limits a tiny bit with orphan works, and look where that's got them.

As a long-term archive, I get the value of the organization (not that I have any real faith that modern works will ever lapse from copyright, even in 300 years), and I understand why these universities are risk adverse (not that it's helped them avoid the lawsuits), but what's the point of going through so much effort if you can't even give a brief snippet with your search results? Surely 66+ universities aren't spending this much money and fighting off lawsuits just to build a big corpus for a select few linguistics researchers?
posted by zachlipton at 12:45 PM on October 11, 2012

While the terms of Google's settlement with publishers are undisclosed, it seems more likely that the publishers "abandoned" their attempt to get Google to stop scanning than that Google gave up on its fair use claim. None of the publicly disclosed terms of the settlement go much beyond what Google has been unilaterally offering copyright owners for years.

Here's a roundup of expert commentary on the decision and what it means: Nancy Sims (U. Minnesota), Matthew Sag (Loyola Chicago), Sherwin Siy (Public Knowledge), Kevin Smith (no, not that one, this one's at Duke), Kenneth Crews (Columbia).
posted by grimmelm at 2:26 PM on October 11, 2012

I'm very happy about this ruling. Copyright is supposed to serve the public interest, not just create barbed wire fences on the prairie for publishers.
posted by humanfont at 4:41 PM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Authors Guild responds.
posted by Toekneesan at 9:31 AM on October 12, 2012

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