The University and HathiTrust Digital Library, of which the University is a founding partner, are facing a lawsuit over alleged copyright infringement.

The lawsuit was filed Monday by the Authors Guild, Australian Society of Authors, Quebec Writers Union and eight individual authors. The organizations and individuals claim the University was not authorized to obtain scans of more than 7 million copyrighted books, some of which the University planned to make available to the public to download. The lawsuit also names the University of Wisconsin, the University of California, Indiana University and Cornell University as defendants.

According to Paul Courant, the University’s dean of libraries, the digitization project does not actually allow students to access the full text of books online.

“We are using those copies for purposes other than displaying them to the readers,” Courant said. “The ones that are copyright are generally not available to read.”

He added that people with disabilities preventing them from accessing physical libraries will be able to use the full versions of the online books. But for the general public, the books are only partly available online. Students and faculty can search any book online to find pertinent content, but must physically check out the book at the library in order to read it.

“We’re not using these books in any way that competes with the use of the marketplace,” Courant said.

The process of digitization is a way to preserve deteriorating books, Courant said. The HathiTrust Digital Library began in 2008 and now has 52 partners worldwide.

“Mostly what we have these (digital copies) for is to preserve the physical books that are falling apart,” Courant said. “So, basically what we have is a backup copy of our library.”

Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild — the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit — said he thinks the University’s digitization process is illegal.

The digitization is “a clear violation of (authors’) copyright,” Aiken said.

The Authors Guild and the other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in order “to secure the rights of authors and their works,” Aiken said.

The lawsuit also targets an aspect of the digitization project that would permit the downloading of books the University labels as “orphans.” According to Courant, “orphans” are books with no copyright information available.

“We don’t know who has the copyright,” Courant said. “If we can’t find the copyright holder after months of searching, then we’re going to allow you … to read that book from your laptop at home.”

Of these orphans, 27 are scheduled to be available for download on Oct. 13, with another 140 to be made available in November.

“I think that is an immediate threat,” Aiken said. “The first works are supposed to be released under this orphan program in a month from now, so it gives immediacy and urgency to the lawsuit.”

But Aiken said he is equally, if not more concerned, about the University’s ongoing digitization of books. Even though full versions of the books won’t be available online, he still has apprehensions.

“Security is a top concern,” Aiken said. “These works do not belong to the universities.”

According to Aiken, the plaintiffs are seeking an injunction that would take the copyrighted works off the Internet until Congress addresses the issue of digital libraries. There’s a proposed settlement to the lawsuit that would ensure the security of digital libraries at the universities, but Aiken said he doesn’t want the books online at all.

However, Courant said he does not think the plaintiffs will be successful in this case.

“It’s a little hard to see how (the plaintiffs are) going to object to (the digitization),” he said.

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