Federal appeals court rules searchable book database constitutes fair use

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that creating a searchable book database and giving full digital copies of books to disabled people constitutes fair use. The Authors Guild sued HathiTrust [advocacy websites], Cornell University [university website] and the presidents of four other universities over a claim that the defendants were infringing their copyright by creating a searchable book database. HathiTrust was created as a collaboration between different universities and their libraries. Users of the HathiTrust Digital Library (HDL) can search for text within any book of their choice, but if the work is copyrighted, they cannot access a full digital copy. However, if readers are disabled and at a university library, they can access the work and magnify it or convert it to an audio-book so they can access the information inside the book. HDL also permits member libraries to create replacements of books that they have previously owned if they have been destroyed and cannot be found anywhere else at a reasonable price. The Authors Guild appealed a previous ruling by the US District Court of the Southern District of New York, which had dismissed their copyright claims. The appeals court agreed, holding that "the doctrine of 'fair use' allows defendants-appellees to create a full text searchable database of copyrighted works and to provide those works in formats accessible to those with disabilities."

One of the purposes of the Authors Guild is to advocate for the rights of authors. In April the Authors Guild renewed its complaint [JURIST report] that Google was infringing copyrights by making portions of digitized books freely available to users around the world. This appeal comes after a March 2011 ruling by US Southern District of New York judge Denny Chin that rejected a settlement [JURIST report] between Google and the Authors Guild. In Chin's opinion, he stated that "the ASA [Amended Settlement Agreement] would give Google a significant advantage over competitors, rewarding it for engaging in wholesale copying of copyrighted works without permission, while releasing claims well beyond those presented in the case." The Authors Guild has suggested that Congress instead establish a "National Digital Library" that would be available to schools, libraries and other subscribing institutions.

 

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