Authors and Authors’ Groups From Australia, Quebec, the U.K., and U.S. Sue HathiTrust, the University of Michigan, and Four Other U.S. Universities for Copyright Infringement

By The Authors Guild, PRNE
Monday, September 12, 2011

NEW YORK, September 13, 2011 -


- Digital Files Provided by Google at Issue, As Plaintiffs Seek to Impound Unauthorized Scans of 7 Million Copyright-Protected Books, Pending Congressional Action

The Authors Guild, the Australian Society of Authors, the Union Des Ecrivaines et des Ecrivains Quebecois (UNEQ), and eight individual authors have filed a copyright infringement lawsuit in federal court against HathiTrust, the University of Michigan, the University of California, the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, and Cornell University.  Plaintiff authors include children’s book author and illustrator Pat Cummings, novelists Angelo Loukakis, Roxana Robinson, Daniele Simpson, and Fay Weldon, poet Andre Roy, Columbia University professor and Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro, and Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning biographer T.J. Stiles.

The universities obtained from Google unauthorized scans of an estimated 7 million copyright-protected books, the rights to which are held by authors in dozens of countries.  The universities have pooled the unauthorized files in a repository organized by the University of Michigan called HathiTrust.  In June, Michigan announced plans to permit unlimited downloads by its students and faculty members of copyright-protected works it deems “orphans” according to rules the school has established. Other universities joined in Michigan’s project in August.

The first set of so-called orphans, 27 works by French, Russian, and American authors, are scheduled to be released to an estimated 250,000 students and faculty members on October 13th. An additional 140 books, including works in Spanish, Yiddish, French, and Russian, are to be released starting in November.  

“This is an upsetting and outrageous attempt to dismiss authors’ rights,” said Angelo Loukakis, executive director of the Australian Society of Authors.  ”Maybe it doesn’t seem like it to some, but writing books is an author’s real-life work and livelihood.  This group of American universities has no authority to decide whether, when or how authors forfeit their copyright protection. These aren’t orphaned books, they’re abducted books.”

“I was stunned when I learned of this,” said Daniele Simpson, president of UNEQ.  ”How are authors from Quebec, Italy or Japan to know that their works have been determined to be ‘orphans’ by a group in Ann Arbor, Michigan? If these colleges can make up their own rules, then won’t every college and university, in every country, want to do the same?”

The complaint also questions the security of the 7 million unauthorized digital files. The numbers are staggering.  The universities have, without permission, digitized and loaded onto HathiTrust’s online servers thousands of editions, in various translations, of works by Simone de Beauvoir, Italo Calvino, Bernard Clavel, Umberto Eco, Carlos Fuentes, Gunter Grass, Peter Handke, Michel Houellebecq, Clarice Lispector, Mario Vargas Llosa, Herta Muller, Haruki Murakami, Kenzaburo Oe, Octavio Paz, and Jose Saramago, among countless other authors. Works from nearly every nation have been digitized.  HathiTrust’s databases house more than 65,000 works published in the year 2001, for example, including thousands of works published that year in China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Russia, Spain, and the U.K., and hundreds from Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Mexico, The Netherlands, The Philippines, South Korea, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam.  

“These books, because of the universities’ and Google’s unlawful actions, are now at needless, intolerable digital risk,” said Authors Guild president Scott Turow.  ”Even if it weren’t for this preposterous, ad-hoc initiative, we’d have a major problem with the digital repository.  Authors shouldn’t have to trust their works to a group that’s making up the rules as it goes along.”

Google’s library scanning project is already the subject of a federal class-action lawsuit in New York.  A status conference in that case is scheduled before Judge Denny Chin this Thursday, September 15.

Attorneys Edward Rosenthal and Jeremy Goldman of Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz are representing plaintiffs.


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