Three authors group and eight authors are suing some universities to stop the creation of on libraries comprised of as many as seven million copyright-protected books.
The Google Books project digitized millions of books in university libraries. Some of those colleges, including Cornell University in New York, are now creating an online depository of all those digital copies, hosted at the University of Michigan.
The Authors Guild, along with the Australian Society of Authors and the Union Des Ecrivaines et des Ecrivains Quebecois, or UNEQ, along with eight individual authors, filed a federal lawsuit in Manhattan to stop the creation of online libraries.
Law professor Justin Hughes at Cordozo Law School at Yeshiva University says the copyright infringement case presents a quandary. “On the one hand obviously, we all want to see access to works. But on the other hand, there is a serious issue about author’s rights here and about violation of copyright,” Hughes said.
Hughes noted that many of the digitized books are so-called orphan works. While they’re still protected by copyright laws, it can be difficult to contact the author of an orphan work, and that frustrates the effort to digitize the work in an online library.
“Countries around the world are looking at this problem,” Hughes said. “But the U.S. doesn't have a policy, and these universities likely think something needs to be done.” he said.
But there is a chance that the state universities named in the suit, including the University of California, the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University along with Cornell, may be immune to the authors’ lawsuit. Hughes points out that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that states cannot be sued for patent or copyright infringement.