A group of writers is suing to stop a handful of universities from digitizing millions of books scanned by Google.
The online library, called the HathiTrust repository, was first set up by the University of Michigan for students and staff to view so-called "orphan works," according to the BBC. Orphan works refers to books out-of-print books whose authors couldn't be found. The University of California, University of Wisconsin, Cornell and Duke universities are also involved in the project. So far about 7 million books have been added to the online library for students and faculty to download free, according to Bloomberg.
Last month, the universities decided to go ahead with the project scanned by Google despite not having a judge's OK to do so -- even if the authors can't be found, the books are still governed under copyright law, PaidContent reported.
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Now the Author's Guild and its equivalents in Australia, Canada and Great Britain are suing the universities for going ahead with the project without getting author approval and copyright infringement.
"This group of American universities has no authority to decide whether, when or how authors forfeit their copyright protection. They aren't orphaned books, they're abducted books," Angelo Loukakis, executive director of the Australian Society of Authors, told the Associated Press.
Google is currently embroiled in a six-year legal battle between the Author's Guild and the Association of American Publishers about book digitizing, with a hearing scheduled for Thursday. In the last hearing, Judge Denny Chin threw out the Google settlement saying that it favored Google unfairly.
The question here is why was it so imperative for the universities to get the digital works online just before the Google hearing? Likely because they couldn't find the authors and realized there would be little punishment for doing so. Also because they define the repository as a library, the universities, would pay a small fine if the authors were actually found.
Does this mean universities have no regard for copyright? No, but probably not as much as getting books cheap.