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A Good Day in Court for Access to Knowledge

News article from October 24, 2012

Library efforts to foster research and learning by protecting access to digital books had a good day in court earlier this month.

On Oct 10, a federal district court dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Authors Guild charging five universities (Cornell included) with copyright infringement associated with their membership in the HathiTrust. The HathiTrust is a partnership of research libraries developing a large collection of digitized books drawn from scanning initiatives taking place—sometimes in association with the Google Books Library Project—at each member institution. Work of the HathiTrust is helping to ensure that books digitized by libraries continue to be preserved for long-term access by the world's research community even if initiatives such as the Google Books Project were to discontinue.

Thus far, HathiTrust collection contains 10.5 volumes, with over 408,000 volumes coming from the Cornell University Library system. This number includes over 200,000 books in the agriculture and life sciences from the Mann Library collection, digitized over the past 20 years through various grant-funded projects as well as in partnership with Google Books. Researchers from Cornell and other member institutions of the HathiTrust can access these books in full text form for books in the public domain, or in snippet-only form for books still under copyright or for which copyright status is not yet clear—the operating principle here being that providing access to book snippets greatly increases researchers ability to find resources (via keyword searches) while still honoring all copyright.

The Author's Guild suit had contended that the act of making a digital copy alone constitutes copyright infringement and had asked that all copyrighted works be removed from the HathiTrust database. The Oct. 10 decision by U.S.District Court Judge Baer dismisses this charge, ruling instead that scanning books to preserve them and to construct an index (which enables them to be easily found via keyword searches in a database like that of HathiTrust) is the kind of fair and creative use that copyright should favor.

So university scholars and citizen researchers can take heart.  With Judge Baer's ruling, full text availibity for public domain works AND powerful keyword searching capacity for all digitized books will continue to be a key feature of Cornell's collection of scanned works—and finding your way to the resources you need should only keep getting easier. (For further information, please see Cornell Chronicle article.)

The power of keywords! Google Ngram viewer charts the use frequency of words like “obesity” in English language books (one example of fair and creative use of digitized books noted by Judge Baer).The power of keywords! Google Ngram viewer charts the use frequency of words like “obesity” in English language books (one example of fair and creative use of digitized books noted by Judge Baer).

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