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The Indiana Law Library Blog

Copyright Law in the Digital Age

The law library recently added the Hathi Trust Digital Library to our list of electronic resources.  The Hathi Trust is a cooperative digitization effort by many major research institutions, including Indiana University, with a goal of preserving and providing access to library collections in digital format for use now and in the future.  With so many institutions contributing, collections within the Hathi Trust are vast, including such subjects as nineteenth century German texts, eighteenth century cookbooks, and many historic government documents that can be difficult to locate, such as Patent Indexes going back to the 1800s.

With the natural (and sometimes unnatural) deterioration of print materials, being able to digitize these works helps to ensure their preservation and accessibility for the future.  However, for a little over a year the Hathi Trust has been involved in a copyright lawsuit by the Authors Guild for copyright infringement.  The Authors Guild claimed that creating digital copies of copyrighted works infringed the authors’ copyright, because no permission was sought from the copyright holders, and that such wide-scale distribution (as is afforded by digital access) overstepped the allowances provided for in the Copyright Act’s fair use provisions.

On Wednesday, however, the presiding judge in this case ruled in favor of the Hathi Trust, finding that fair use was met, both because the digitization process was sufficiently transformative (the digital versions of the works in the Hathi Trust are full-text searchable in the database) and because this process provides much-needed access for disabled students (who can now read the digitized works through the help of assistive software).

Copyright law originates in the U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8, endowing Congress with the power “[t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” The U.S. Copyright Act can be found in Title 17 of the U.S. Code.  For more information on U.S. copyright law, see this booklet from the U.S. Copyright Office.

If you’re interested in further research into copyright law, try searching the subject heading Copyright–United States in IUCAT, or browse the shelves around the KF 2994’s (second floor of the law library).


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