Authors Guild v. HathiTrust — Libraries 3 : Authors Guild 0

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the most important parts of the District Court decision in Authors Guild v. HathiTrust. Here is a link to the decision –AGvHathiTrust_CA2_2013.

Along with the district decision in this case and the one in Authors Guild v. Google, this makes the current score, Libraries 3 : Authors Guild 0

The decision confirms that library digitization (as performed by Google in conjunction with the University of Michigan, University of Illinois and many others) does not infringe copyright if it is done for the purpose of allowing blind and visually disabled people to read books. 

Access to the PrintDisabled
The HDL also provides print‐disabled patrons with versions of all of the works contained in its digital archive in formats accessible to them. In order to obtain access to the works, a patron must submit documentation from a qualified expert verifying that the disability prevents him or her from reading printed materials, and the patron must be affiliated with an HDL member that has opted‐into the program. Currently, the University of Michigan is the only HDL member institution that has opted‐in. We conclude that  this use is also protected by the doctrine of fair use.

The decision confirms that library digitization does not infringe copyright if it is done for the purpose  of text-mining or creating a search engine. This is core of the non-expressive use argument that Matthew Jockers, Jason Schultz and I made in the Digital Humanities Amicus Brief  ( That brief was joined by over 100 professors and scholars who teach, write, and research in computer science, the digital humanities, linguistics or law, and two associations that represent Digital Humanities scholars generally.

The crux of our argument was that mass digitization of books for text-mining purposes is a form of incidental or “intermediate” copying that enables ultimately non-expressive, non-infringing, and socially beneficial uses without unduly treading on any expressive—i.e., legally cognizable—uses of the works. The Court of Appeals appears to have agreed.

FullText Search
It is not disputed that, in order to perform a full‐text search of books, the Libraries must first create digital copies of the entire books. Importantly, as we have seen, the HDL does not allow users to view any portion of the books they are searching. Consequently,  in providing this service, the HDL does not add into circulation any new, human‐readable copies of any books. Instead, the HDL simply permits users to “word search”—that is, to locate where specific  words or phrases appear in the digitized books. Applying the relevant factors, we conclude that this use is a fair use.

The Court left itself some room to maneuver if it turns out that, for reason, digitization for non-expressive uses like text mining causes unforeseen harm in different circumstances. For example, a digitization project that did not bother with any kind of security might not be fair use.

Without foreclosing a future claim based on circumstances not  now predictable, and based on a different record, we hold that the  balance of relevant factors in this case favors the Libraries. In sum,  we conclude that the doctrine of fair use allows the Libraries to  digitize copyrighted works for the purpose of permitting full‐text  searches.

With that appropriate caveat, this is a great win for for humanity and the Digital Humanities respectively.

I am proud to have played my small part in this case over the years.