Federal appeals court upholds library digitization project


The 2nd U.S. Circuit of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling that affirms library digitization practices as well as certain uses of the millions of in-copyright volumes in the HathiTrust Digital Library.

The decision Tuesday by the three-judge panel describes full-text search as a “quintessentially transformative use” of a copyright-protected work, and upholds as permissible other uses including access for readers who have print disabilities.

It remanded to the U.S. District Court, which had dismissed the case, the question of whether any of the plaintiffs have standing to raise claims about uses the libraries might make of copyrighted works that are lost, destroyed, or stolen.

James Hilton, university librarian and dean of libraries, said he hopes this appellate court decision answers any lingering question about the status of the university’s digitization project, initiated in 2004 in partnership with Google.

“The benefits of this project to the university and to the world are yet to be fully realized,” Hilton said. “We look forward to the discoveries to come as our community fully incorporates this great digital resource into its scholarship and research.”

The lawsuit, which was filed in September 2011, sought to severely curtail the library’s digitization activities and the HathiTrust Digital Library initiative, which holds more than 11 million digitized library volumes and consists of more than 90 research library partners.

Since then, HathiTrust has continued to expand its activities, launching initiatives to identify and eventually digitize a comprehensive collection of U.S. federal publications and to develop a distributed print archive corresponding to the digital collections.

The HathiTrust Research Center, hosted by partner institutions Indiana University and the University of Illinois, began operating in 2012 to sponsor advanced computational research using the HathiTrust collection.

“We’re very happy that this ruling again confirms the transformative nature of the work we do to make library collections available in new ways to researchers and readers around the world,” said HathiTrust Executive Director Mike Furlough. “We’re especially proud to continue access for people with print disabilities.”

Furlough also expressed gratitude to the many researchers, legal scholars, libraries, and others for their continued support and use of HathiTrust, and to U-M for its vigorous defense against the lawsuit.



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