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11 June 2014Copyright

“Largest copyright infringement in history” claim defeated

A group of author associations from the US, UK and Australia has lost a copyright infringement case against a digitsation scheme led by the University of Michigan.

Described by the group as the “largest copyright infringement in history”, HathiTrust, an organisation set up by a group of US universities, had allegedly violated copyright through its HathiTrust Digital Library (HDL) search engine.

Currently, 80 academic institutions are members of the HDL, which contains more than ten million works. Users are able to search only for key terms in works, unless they obtain authorisation from HathiTrust for further access. Special provisions are made for those with disabilities.

The authors objected to the widespread digitisation of their works to users in the scheme, as well as the excessive storage of their data.

They also complained about the Orphan Works Project, an initiative set up by the University of Michigan in 2011, which freely distributed copyrighted works that did not have an identifiable owner. This, however, was later abandoned in the same year.

In a June 10 ruling, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit accepted the defendants’ ‘fair use’ argument, stating that the doctrine of ‘fair use’ allows them to create a “full-text searchable database of copyrighted works”.

The court also ruled that the storage of data in four different locations was “reasonably necessary in order to facilitate the HDL’s services”.

It added that the Authors Guild and the Writers’ Union of Canada lacked “associational standing”, saying they could not act on behalf of third parties.

However, the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society as well as other European writers’ associations, were allowed to claim as a third party on behalf of their members, as they are set up under foreign laws.

A statement on the HathiTrust website said: “The Second Circuit of the US Court of Appeals upheld the critical points ... finding that digitalisation for full-text search and access for print-disabled readers is fair use under US law.”

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