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Searchable Digital Libraries and Fair Use Staff Writer

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Searchable Digital Libraries and Fair Use

Tuesday, June 10, 2014 was a rough day for the Authors Guild. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Guild and for a project creating searchable digital libraries that are “transformative” and protected by the principles of “Fair Use.” In addition, the Guild’s separate suit against Google, Inc. for very similar acts looks like it may go Google’s way.

Academic and research efforts are greatly assisted by the ability to digitally search through books online, finding the searched word/phrase and its page number. In addition, print-disabled readers, such as the visually impaired, are significantly assisted through digital book storage. Finally, a library’s ability to replace lost books through digitized versions is valuable. In 2008, 13 research libraries, including the University of California at Berkeley, established an ambitious project called the HathiTrust in conjunction with Google, Inc. to scan books and make them searchable online. To date, the HathiTrust and its 60+ partners have scanned more than 10 million books that are searchable online. Access to the HathiTrust can be found here:

In 2011, the Authors Guild sued the HathiTrust and a number of the research libraries, alleging copyright infringement. The Authors Guild also sued Google, Inc. separately, alleging copyright infringement due to Google’s efforts to scan books, make them searchable online and show fragments of the books surrounding the searched words and phrases. Due to the special interests of the visually impaired, the National Institute for the Blind became involved in the suit on the side of the HathiTrust and research libraries.

Losing both suits in lower federal court, the Authors Guild separately appealed the losses to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. On June 10, 2014, the court ruled that enabling full-text search “adds to the original something new with a different purpose and a different character,” making the use sufficiently “transformative” and therefore protected by the principles of “Fair Use.” The portion of the suit involving a library’s ability to reproduce lost books was ruled “too speculative” for a decision and was returned to the lower court to determine whether the Guild can proceed with that issue. As for Google, no decision has been rendered in that suit but this decision is certainly a good omen for the media giant.

By Kathy Catanzarite

Source: Kathy Catanzarite - Staff Writer

Note from This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information can not be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither the author,, or any of its affiliates shall have any liability stemming from this article.

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