Creating full-text searchable database of copyrighted works is “fair use”
By Yixuan Long- Edited by Sarah O’Loughlin
Authors Guild, Inc. v. HathiTrust, No. 12‐4547‐cv (2d Circuit, June 10, 2014)
In a unanimous opinion delivered by Judge Parker, the Second Circuit held that under the fair use doctrine universities and research libraries are allowed to create full‐text searchable databases of copyrighted works and provide such works in formats accessible to those with disabilities. The court also decided that evidence was insufficient to decide whether the plaintiffs had standing to bring a claim regarding storage of digital copies for preservation purposes. In so holding, the Second Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part the district court’s opinion.
The fair use doctrine, set out in the Copyright Act of 1976 as a limitation on authors’ exclusive rights over their works, allows the public to draw upon copyrighted materials without the permission of the copyright holder in certain circumstances. 17 U.S.C.A. § 107
Several research universities made digital copies of books in their collections and created a repository for the books called HathiTrust Digital Library (“HDL”) in 2008. They also founded HathiTrust to operate it. The HDL provides a full-text book database that allows users to search for page numbers where specific text can be found, and permits member libraries to provide patrons with certified print disabilities access to the full text of copyrighted works. HathiTrust currently has 80 members and the HDL contains over ten million books. Twenty authors and authors’ associations sued HathiTrust for copyright infringement.
The court first decided that three authors’ associations plaintiffs, including Authors Guild, Inc., do not have standing as a matter of U.S. law because the Copyright Act of 1976 does not allow third parties to bring suits. The remaining four authors’ associations’ standing came from foreign law that confers upon them exclusive rights to enforce copyrights of their foreign members. (more…)