The Authors Guild had no immediate comment on Wednesday’s court decision in the HathiTrust case, but in a post on its Web site this morning the Guild said it “disagree[s] with nearly every aspect of the court’s ruling.” In his decision, Judge Harold Baer found that the mass book digitization program conducted by five major universities in conjunction with Google is a fair use under U.S. copyright law.
The Guild said it was “especially disappointed that the court refused to address the universities’ ‘orphan works’ program, which defendants have repeatedly promised to revive.” The Guild noted that the University of Michigan and other defendants were set to release their first wave of copyrighted books that they said were orphan works but that the Guild and its staff found that the titles included books that were still in print, books by living authors, books whose rights had been left to educational and charitable institutions in the U.S. and abroad, books represented by literary agents, and books by recently deceased authors whose heirs were easily locatable leading UM to suspend the program.
“The so-called orphan works program was quickly shown to be a haphazard mess, prompting Michigan to suspend it,” said Paul Aiken, the Guild’s executive director in the post. “But the temptation to find reasons to release these digitized books clearly remains strong, and the university has consistently pledged to reinstate the orphan works program. The court’s decision leaves authors around the world at risk of having their literary works distributed without legal authority or oversight.”
The Guild said it will be discussing the decision with our colleagues and co-plaintiffs in Europe, Canada, and Australia and “expect to announce our next steps shortly.”