Court OKs Universities' Quest To Turn To More Digital Copies Of Books

Jun 10, 2014
Originally published on June 11, 2014 6:43 am

A U.S. appeals court has ruled against a group of authors, deciding in favor of a consortium of universities in a case that hinged on copyright law and provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The universities had allowed Google to make digital copies of more than 10 million books so that they could be searchable by specific terms.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

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And I'm Melissa Block. It's a ruling some are hailing as a victory for online innovation. Today, a federal appeals court said universities can allow Google to make digital copies of millions of books in their collections. As NPR's Lynn Neary reports, the court ruled the practice is not of violation of copyright law.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: It began in 2004 when a small number of university libraries gave Google permission to make digital copies of all the books in their collections. Eventually, some 80 colleges, universities and nonprofits formed an organization they called the HathiTrust Digital Library - giving Google access to some 10 million books - some of which were published centuries ago.

Pat Aufderheide of American University studies copyright and fair use.

PAT AUFDERHEIDE: And HathiTrust offers any user the chance to search that entire collection of 80 libraries worth of books for particular words and collection of words.

NEARY: Several authors and author organizations sued HathiTrust for copyright infringement. Last year, a New York Circuit Court ruled that making digital copies for research purposes and to make the books accessible to the handicapped was allowed under the doctrine called fair use and therefore, did not violate copyright law. Today's ruling upholds that decision.

AUFDERHEIDE: What the court said is this is really just a tool to enable people to find stuff out, and creating that tool and giving them access in itself is a fair use. So that's a really important clarification.

NEARY: Joseph Peterson, an attorney for HathiTrust, says his clients are grateful for today's decision.

JOSEPH PETERSON: It's immensely helpful. It allows students with print disabilities to kind of compete on something close to even footing with their nondisabled peers. And I think it also helps ensure - it will enable scholars to perform research that up to this point in human history, was not capable of being performed. And will ensure that works are available and preserved for future generations.

NEARY: Daniel Goldstein, who represented people with disabilities, says the Second Circuit Court's decision gives his clients the opportunity to do something most people take for granted.

DANIEL GOLDSTEIN: If you have a library, you can go and check out that book and read it without paying for it, but you can do that because you have access to the printed word. And all this case is saying in terms of those with print disabilities is, OK, you can check out that same book and read it digitally.

NEARY: Goldstein says today's ruling has significant implications for the future.

GOLDSTEIN: I think we will see more libraries for a variety of reasons that don't have to do with disabilities, making digital copies of their collections and then giving access.

NEARY: Representatives of the Authors Guild were unavailable for comment today. It's not clear what their next step will be.

Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.