Hypocritical Authors Guild Photocopies Author's Book While Claiming That Scanning Works Is Infringement

from the oops dept

A few weeks ago, we wrote about the big win for fair use, as the appeals court ruled against the Authors Guild and said that libraries scanning books in their collection to make a searchable index is fair use. Hilariously, the Authors Guild is in complete denial about this ruling, putting out a statement claiming it was “not a total victory for either side” and that the ruling was “narrow.” Except, that’s not true. Yes, the Court sent back a tiny part of the case, but if it wasn’t a “complete” victory for libraries, book scanning and fair use, it was, at the very least a 95% victory.

Still, the eagle-eyed sleuths at 5 Useful Articles have spotted an absolutely hilarious exchange that happened during one of the depositions in the case. The deposition was of Peter Hirtle (full disclosure: I know Hirtle a bit, and he once invited me to speak at an event, though I was unable to go — though until now I had no idea he was even a part of this case in any way). Hirtle, who has spent many years as an archivist and policy advisor for the Cornell University Library, also happens to be an author. At one point, the lawyers for the Authors Guild apparently brought in a bunch of copies of Mr. Hirtle’s book. Photocopies. I think you can see where this is going.

If you can’t read that, well, I’m just going to have to transcript it out. Lawyers Goldman and Rosenthal represent the Authors Guild, while Potter and Roth represent the Hathitrust and Cornell respectively.

MR. ROTH: I see you’ve made multiple copies of Mr. Hirtle’s book.
Mr. ROTH: That is in copyright and for sale in bookstores.
MR. GOLDMAN: Okay. Yes.
MR. POTTER: You don’t think it raises any copyright concerns?
MR. ROSENTHAL: I don’t think this is an appropriate question.
MR. GOLDMAN: No, I think it’s also — I’m not even going to engage in that.
MR. ROTH: Note our objection. These books could have been purchased. And given the subject matter of the lawsuit, it’s quite ironic that you’d be using multiple copies of a book in copyright.
MR. GOLDMAN: It’s published under a creative commons license. It’s not attribution and noncommercial.
MR. ROSENTHAL: Why don’t we just destroy the copy that we gave Mr. Hirtle’s lawyer and to anybody else in the room who wants a copy other than the one we marked for the thing. If they really don’t want to have copies for purposes of fairness in the deposition, then we’ll just get rid of the extra copies. That’s fine. You want us to take back Mr. Potter’s copy and destroy it?
MR. ROTH: I’m not going to give you advice.
MR. ROSENTHAL: Okay. I’m going to take these — let the record show I’m taking these extra copies and I’m going to put them in our shredder which is in the next room. Anybody who wants to come watch me do it, may be welcome to come do it. And no one has even looked at those. So there you go.
MR. POTTER: I guess if no one else looks at something, it’s not infringement? That’s an interesting theory.

That last line is the real zinger — since a big part of the Authors Guild’s argument in the lawsuit was that even if no one looks at the scanned works, it’s still infringement merely because they made a copy. And, yes, the Creative Commons license around the book certainly suggests that the Authors Guild’s lawyers did not, in fact, infringe on Hirtle’s copyright, but it does show, yet again, how frequently it seems that copyright maximalists rush to easily copy something when it suits their needs.

I’m reminded, of course, of that time when the MPAA was caught making unauthorized copies of the film, This Film Is Not Yet Rated, which skewered the MPAA and its practices. The MPAA, in that case, insisted that it could make such copies “because it had implications for our employees.” Yet, this was the same MPAA that insisted that “all forms of piracy are illegal and carry serious legal consequences.” It also was going around at the time telling school children “if you haven’t paid for it, you’ve stolen it.” And its former boss, Jack Valenti, once (incorrectly) insisted that fair use doesn’t exist.

There’s something deeper here. People copy stuff all the time, because it’s a natural and normal thing to do. People make copies because it’s convenient and it serves a purpose — and quite often they know that doing so causes no harm in those situations. This is an intrinsic understanding. It’s so intrinsic that folks at the MPAA and Authors Guild do it without even realizing it. But it’s part of what makes their hardline position so ridiculous.

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Companies: authors guild, hathitrust

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Comments on “Hypocritical Authors Guild Photocopies Author's Book While Claiming That Scanning Works Is Infringement”

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Nate (profile) says:

Re: Re:

What evidence? They haven’t done anything wrong.

Are we talking about this book, which is freely available from Cornell U.?

What’s the problem with making copies of that book? It’s under a CC license. Where’s the hypocrite in using a book exactly the way the author intended, with his permission?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

No, that was just a physical demonstration of the equivalent of a DMCA takedown. No verification if the person making the request was the copyright holder and no consideration for fair use at all. Nope, simply because something is was is under copyright and was copied by someone other than the copyright holder, the copies have to be destroyed quickly before anyone can see them regardless of the circumstances.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

It’s not really, though. Nobody in that exchange claimed to be the copyright holder, they just asked Mr Rosenthal if he thought it was ironic to have copied a book in a case where Mr Rosenthal is saying it’s illegal to copy a book without a license.

The strange part is why Mr Rosenthal didn’t just say that the copies are licensed because he’s complying with the CC license terms, and move on?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Just Computers

They would then just turn it around and exploit it for their own benefit like the government does…

DEA sells you drugs so that they can arrest you for possession of drugs.

FBI creates a terrorist plot for you to be involved in so that they can arrest you for being involved in a terrorist plot.


MPAA would then sue you for infringement on making a copy of a movie by watching the movie you paid to see.

Kenneth Michaels (profile) says:


The defendant’s attorneys made a few mistakes here. First, they should not have objected at all, since allowing the copy in the deposition is consistent with their theory of the case. By raising the issue, they allowed the plaintiff’s attorney to change course and proceed according to the plaintiff’s theory of the case. The defendant’s attorney should have raised this contradiction as persuasive evidence after the deposition.

Second, attorney babble is not evidence. What the witness says is evidence. The witness (Peter Hirtle) didn’t say a thing in this portion of the transcript. Presumably Peter Hirtle would be aware of this contradiction and could mention it during his testimony.

Because the attorney was so happy he caught a contradiction, he opened his mouth to show how smart he is and blew it.

Whatever (profile) says:

There’s something deeper here. People copy stuff all the time, because it’s a natural and normal thing to do. People make copies because it’s convenient and it serves a purpose — and quite often they know that doing so causes no harm in those situations.

Those people aren’t the issue. The people who are the issue are the ones who, knowing that the work is copyright and that they should purchase a copy, decide instead to just take a copy for their own enjoyment.

Anonymous Coward says:

> People make copies because it’s convenient and it serves a purpose — and quite often they know that doing so causes no harm in those situations.

How do they know they are not causing harm? So, if I don’t know that I’m causing harm, it’s not infringement. That’s an interesting theory.

It’s hard to find the proper middle ground on the topic of copyright, isn’t it?

That One Guy (profile) says:

It only counts when other people do it

Hardly surprising really, it always seems that those that push for increased and harsher copyright laws and punishments have a complete blind-spot when they are the ones infringing, and while they won’t accept ‘It was an accident’ from anyone they accuse, they certainly waste no time employing the excuse themselves when they get caught.

As a classic example, consider the whole French three-strikes debacle and it’s defenders…

One More Copyright Infringement, And HADOPI Must Disconnect Itself From The Net

As Sarkozy Pushes Three Strikes, He Pays Up For His Own Copyright Violations

Nicolas Sarkozy Caught Mass ‘Pirating’ DVDs; Time To Kick Him Off The Internet

Sarkozy’s Party Found Violating Copyright Yet Again With Awful Lipdub

Anonymous Coward says:

This is one I’ve thought of many times. Courts require evidence to sustain trains of verbal thought. No one seems to think anything of just photocopying whatever is needed for that. Seems to me that those who hunt infringement violations never look to court to see exactly where these violations occur, unlike the internet.

Do we have a legal blind spot here? It would appear so.

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