September 15, 2011

Cornell Library Sued for Copyright Infringement

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Individual authors and authors’ groups around the world are suing Cornell and four other universities, alleging that the universities’ library digitization projects are an illegal infringement of copyright law.Individual authors and authors’ groups around the world are suing Cornell and four other universities, alleging that the universities’ library digitization projects are an illegal infringement of copyright law.

The lawsuit was filed Monday by The Authors Guild, the Australian Society of Authors and the Union Des Ecrivaines et des Ecrivains Quebecois in conjunction with eight individual authors. It claims that, along with Google, five universities — Cornell, the University of Michigan, Indiana University, the University of California and the University of Wisconsin — have digitized about 7 million books illegally. The majority of the contested texts are known as “orphan works” — books that are still subject to copyright but whose copyright holders are unknown or cannot be located.

Simeon Moss ’73, deputy University spokesperson, said it is too early to tell what Cornell is going to do about the lawsuit.

“We’re still reviewing it and don’t have any comment at this time,” Moss said.

The libraries being sued are all members of HathiTrust — a collaboration of university libraries that share the goal of building a digital archive — according to Paul Courant, the dean of libraries at the University of Michigan.

The lawsuit alleges that these universities have made unauthorized copies of works, and it takes issue with their methodology for identifying and digitizing orphan works.

“The others that were sued, like us, have put their attention on making orphan works available digitally to their campuses,” Courant said.  “These are books that were written so long ago that no one knows or cares about who wrote them. We are making those available to faculty and students on our campuses. That’s what each of us have announced that we will do.”

librarian, Cornell has digitized about 500,000 books, of which about 100,000 are in the public domain.

“The works are either in the public domain or we have permission of the copy-righter. Material that is still protected by copyright, no one has access to,” said Peter Hirtle, senior policy advisor in the Cornell University Library.

The books that are not copyright protected are available to the public.

“The books that are available to the public are those that are in the public domain. We have certainly, through Google, digitized some material that is not in the public domain,” Kenney said.

The University of Michigan uses a similar system in terms of digitizing works without copyright permission.

“We do not have explicit permission to have made a copy of some of these books. However, we don’t share those books with anybody,” Paul Courant said. “We use those books for preservation and to make an index so people can search books for words or phrases. But if they want to read them, they need to come to the library to check out the book.”

For the University of Wisconsin, this is one of the first lawsuits filed against the libraries in terms of digitization and copyright.

“In the course of digitizing for ten years, we’ve had two requests to take down material, both of which we’ve accommodated. We’ve had many, many, many more requests from authors to open their material to full text,” said Ed Van Gemert, deputy director of libraries at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

According to library staff, this is the first lawsuit of its kind against Cornell. While previous lawsuits have targeted Google, they have not reached the individual universities that have partnered with Google.

“There are a number of institutions that have worked with Google to digitize material. Cornell is one of them, out of 25 to 30 such institutions,” Kenney said. “In terms of the books, the only lawsuit has been against Google Books, which is against Google.”

For now, the books in the universities’ digital libraries that are in the public domain will still be available to students and faculty at their respective universities.

Original Author: Rachel Rabinowitz