Authors Guild sues universities over online books

The authors said books from nearly every nation have been digitized, including thousands of works published in 2001.

Authors and authors’ groups in the United States, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom sued the University of Michigan and four other universities Sept. 12, seeking to stop the creation of online libraries made up of as many as 7 million copyright-protected books they say were scanned without authorization.

The Authors Guild, the Australian Society of Authors and the Union Des Ecrivaines et des Ecrivains Quebecois, or UNEQ, joined eight individual authors to file the copyright infringement lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan against Michigan, the University of California, the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, and Cornell University.

The lawsuit accuses the University of Michigan of creating a repository known as HathiTrust where unlimited downloads could be accessed by students and faculty members of so-called orphan works, which are out-of-print books whose writers could not be located.

The authors said they obtained from Google Inc. the unauthorized scans of an estimated 7 million copyright-protected books. They said the schools had pooled the unauthorized files at Michigan.

The university planned to make about 40 books available online to its students and faculty in October, said Paul Courant, the dean of libraries at the university. He said university officials had been in discussions with the Authors Guild in recent weeks about its plans and were surprised by the lawsuit.

“I’m confident that everything we’re doing and everything we’re contemplating doing is lawful use of these works,” Courant said.

The lawsuit seeks to impound the digital copies of the works along with other unspecified damages.

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