Authors Sue U.S. Universities for Copyright Infringement
September 14, 2011

Authors Sue U.S. Universities for Copyright Infringement


Five American universities participating in a program to digitize books are being sued by authors in the U.S., the U.K., Canada and Australia, claiming that they have obtained unauthorized scans of millions of copyright-protected manuscripts, various media outlets reported Tuesday.

Telegraph reporter Nick Allen reports that the lawsuit, which was filed in Manhattan, claims that the University of Michigan, the University of Wisconsin, the University of California, Indiana University and Cornell University have obtained unauthorized scans of approximately 7 million copyright-protected books from Google.

According to Julie Bosman of the New York Times, the lawsuit contends that "by digitizing, archiving, copying and now publishing the copyrighted works without the authorization of those works´ rights holders, the universities are engaging in one of the largest copyright infringements in history."

The parties filing the legal challenge include the Authors Guild, the Australian Society of Authors (ASA), the Union Des Écrivaines et des Écrivains Québécois (UNEQ), as well as eight individual authors (British novelist Fay Weldon, Pulitzer Prize winning biographer TJ Stiles, children's author Pat Cummings, novelists Angelo Loukakis, Roxana Robinson and Danièle Simpson, poet André Roy and Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro), Alison Flood of the Guardian reported Tuesday.

The works were allegedly compiled into a digital library known as HathiTrust, a coalition of libraries and educational institutions whose goal, according to their website, is "to ensure that the cultural record is preserved and accessible long into the future." HathiTrust was also named as a defending in the lawsuit, according to Flood.

"This is an upsetting and outrageous attempt to dismiss authors' rights," Angelo Loukakis, Executive Director of the ASA, said in a statement. "Maybe it doesn't seem like it to some, but writing books is an author's real-life work and livelihood.  This group of American universities has no authority to decide whether, when or how authors forfeit their copyright protection. These aren't orphaned books, they're abducted books."

"I was stunned when I learned of this," added UNEQ President Daniele Simpson. "How are authors from Quebec, Italy or Japan to know that their works have been determined to be 'orphans' by a group in Ann Arbor, Michigan? If these colleges can make up their own rules, then won't every college and university, in every country, want to do the same?"

University of Michigan Dean of Libraries Paul Courant told SAPA-AFP that officials at the school were shocked to learn of the lawsuit, and asserted that they were confident that the proposed book digitization project was not illegal.

"In addition to copyright infringement, the suit also cites concerns about the security of the files in the HathiTrust repository, which is organized and maintained by the University of Michigan. Scott Turow, the president of the Authors Guild, said the books on file were at 'needless, intolerable digital risk.' Bosman said. "The plaintiffs are not seeking damages in the lawsuit; instead, they are asking that the books be taken off the HathiTrust servers and held by a trustee."


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