It appears that Scott Turow is really trying to cement in place the reputation of the Authors Guild as a luddite, anti-education, anti-learning organization. What a shame. A decade ago, the Authors Guild stunningly told its authors not to link to Amazon
, because Amazon dared to also show used books alongside new ones. It also freaked out when Amazon allowed people to search full text
of books. Over the intervening decade, the Authors Guild has consistently come out against progress, such as when it freaked out
about the text-to-speech feature on the Kindle, bizarrely claiming that this feature was infringing (it's not).
For many years, the Authors Guild has been involved in a legal dispute with Google over the Google Books scanning project. And while the two sides came to a highly questionable settlement that was thankfully rejected by the court, it appears that the Authors Guild is doubling down on a new lawsuit -- this time suing five universities
for daring to try to provide access to digital scans of orphan works -- those works for which no copyright holder can be identified.
You may have heard a few months ago that the University of Michigan's libraries, sick of waiting for Congress to get its act in order and deal with the orphan works problem, said it was just going to start making such works available. Last month, some other universities joined the University of Michigan
to create a consortium of universities who decided to provide access to scanned orphan works. These libraries had to know they were daring the Authors Guild to sue, and now it's happened.
The University of Michigan, the University of California, the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, and Cornell University, along with the overall consortium group, called the HathiTrust, has been sued. Oddly, there are a few other universities who stated they were going to take part in this effort -- including the University of Florida, Duke, Emory and Johns Hopkins. I'm not sure how they avoided being lumped in to the lawsuit.
This is related to the Google book scanning project, because these university libraries shared their collections with Google to scan, and it's just that now they've decided that they're going to make orphan works available. The universities are claiming that fair use lets them share these works. The Authors Guild, obviously, disagrees. On top of that, the universities and the HathiTrust makes it pretty clear that they're bending over backwards to make sure that these works truly are orphan works
where copyright holders cannot be found:
The story starts with Google’s scanning agreements with the libraries: each time Google scans a book, it returns both the physical book and a digital copy to the library that gave it the book. The libraries then gave their scans to the HathiTrust, which functions like a digital version of a shared off-site storage warehouse. HathiTrust makes multiple copies of each file, storing versions on hard drives and tape backups at both Michigan and Indiana. It offers the public bibliographic information about the books, and provides a full-text search engine. Unlike Google Books, however, which shows “snippets” from the books as search results, HathiTrust will only tell users the page numbers where the search terms occur. If a book is in the public domain, HathiTrust turns on full view, letting users read it online. (If you’re affiliated with one the member institutions, you can also download the book as a PDF.)
This spring, HathiTrust announced the “Orphan Works Project,” which aimed to investigate the rights status of the books still in copyright. It would investigate the author and publisher information available about the book; if they could not be located and the book was unavailable, it would be flagged as a possible orphan and put on a list of candidates. If at any time a copyright owner is identified and located (e.g. because they step forward), the book is removed from the list.
In other words, the only way a book gets displayed through this system is if no copyright holder is found after a fairly extensive process. And if the copyright holder ever shows up, the work is immediately removed. All of this makes me wonder if the Authors Guild can really prove it has standing in this case. If the actual copyright holders cannot be identified
, how can the Authors Guild claim standing over these works?
Either way, this is yet another in this long line of disputes in which the Authors Guild is coming out on the wrong side. It's not helping authors, it's doing the exact opposite, by acting like a massive luddite, attacking any form of innovation or any system that encourages the reading of books and the sharing of knowledge. Shame on the Authors Guild, who seems to only be living up to the reputation of guilds from the Middle Ages, which were focused on economically-suicidal protectionism, rather than innovation.