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HathiTrust: An author never forgets

By Rachel Premack, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 18, 2013

It’s not the job of a university to make the decisions about these rights,” Aiken said.

Courant affirmed that the initial process of orphan-work identification was flawed, and the project was suspended.

“No orphan works — not one — were made available to readers in error,” Courant said. “However, it's now clear that reliable identification of orphan works is difficult and costly.”

U.S. law dictates that 70 years after the author’s death or if the rights are otherwise waived, the work enters public domain. Two-thirds of HathiTrust’s contents are not accessible for full reading for this reason, as these works retain copyright and cannot be freely distributed. In the HathiTrust, public domain works are fully viewable, a practice Aiken affirms as legal and approved by writers.

Works that still retain copyright, however, may be searched, and users can see the pages where their keyword exists.

Google Books often provides a “snippet” of text to show the keyword in context of the searches. Both providers show the book title, author’s name and other basic information about the text.

Hasbrouck said this prevents readers from using the book itself. For instance, an author may offer the book on his or her ad-supported website that readers could use, and the author would get money from ad revenue on the website.

With HathiTrust, this is money lost. Google’s “snippet” technique is even more undermining.

“Looking at the index does substitute for looking at the book itself,” Hasbrouck said. “There’s been an attempt to portray it as something that has no economic consequence for authors at all.”

Only individuals who are scanning books to develop the archive can read the copyrighted books in full.

Laine Farley, executive director of the California Digital Library, said HathiTrust is spawning new academic studies even with books that aren’t fully accessible.

“We’re already seeing evidence of new types of scholarship that can come out of access to these works,” Farely said. “If they’re not (readable), just knowing that they exist has increased the ability of our scholars as well as the public to find those materials.”

Twenty-first century enlightenment

While authors, publishers and the entities who seek to publicize their work slog through legal disputes, technology surges ahead.

“I sometimes say that, every once in a while, this University stumbles across something that changes the world,” Duderstadt said. “This is one of those world-changing things.”

Duderstadt hailed HathiTrust, along with massive open online courses, as a factor in the current “21st century Enlightenment.”

“Now if you have a cell phone, you not only have access to millions and millions of volumes of books’ knowledge, but you have access to learning capability for free,” Duderstadt said. “We’re providing access, not only to knowledge, but to learning for the world.”

Duderstadt recalled a friend, who recently relocated to China, having his furniture moved in his new country when one of the movers approached him.

“You know, I’m taking a course in computer programming from MIT,” the mover said. “It’s pretty hard.”

Duderstadt’s friend replied, “Well, why are you moving furniture if you’re taking this course?”

“Well, five years from now I don’t wanna be a furniture mover,” he replied. “I wanna be a computer programmer.”