The 10 biggest higher-ed tech stories of 2011

9. Legal battles hamper schools’ efforts to create digital libraries.

In March, a federal judge rejected a deal between internet search leader Google Inc. and the book industry that would have put millions of volumes online, citing antitrust concerns and the need for involvement from Congress. And in September, authors’ groups in the United States and three other nations filed a lawsuit against five U.S. universities, seeking to stop the creation of online libraries made up of millions of copyright-protected books they say were scanned without authorization.

These two legal actions, which revolve around the use of so-called “orphan” works (out-of-print works whose authors cannot be located), have put a wrench in schools’ efforts to digitize their book collections and make them available to a wider range of scholars and students.

U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin said Google’s creation of a universal digital library would “simply go too far,” and he was troubled by the differences between Google’s views and those of others affected by the settlement. Still, he left the door open for an eventual deal, noting that many objectors would drop their complaints if Google set up the arrangement so book owners would have to opt in to join the library rather than being forced to opt out if they don’t want to take part.

Stanford University, which affirmed its support for the Google Books project last year, said in a statement that campus officials were “disappointed” by the ruling.

“The settlement effort was the culmination of several years of negotiations between publishers, authors, libraries and Google,” the university said. “For research and education, the settlement provided an opportunity to access these out-of-print works as part of a universal library and to preserve works that physically deteriorating.”

Many campuses that have lent support to Google Books have created their own digital book collections—modest online libraries when compared to the scope of Google’s collection of about 15 million works.

Some of those efforts were called into question when 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 a copyright infringement lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan against Michigan, California, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Cornell universities.

The lawsuit accuses the University of Michigan of creating a repository known as HathiTrust, where unlimited downloads of orphan works could be accessed by students and faculty members. The authors accused Michigan of getting the unauthorized scans of an estimated 7 million copyright-protected books from Google.

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 campus 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 … is lawful use of these works,” he said.

In his March ruling, Chin said Congress ultimately should decide who should be entrusted with guardianship over orphan books and under what terms, rather than the issue being resolved by private, self-interested parties.

While these legal developments are a setback for digital library initiatives, campus leaders said they would find new ways to share educational resources among institutions.

“Putting commercial considerations aside, eventually we need to come to terms with distribution of most all educational content, including books, online,” said Raymond Schroeder, director of the University of Illinois at Springfield’s Center for Online Learning, Research, and Services. “Increasingly, open educational resources are moving ahead in education. Those who cannot come to terms with some sort of program will be left in the digital dust.”

See also:

Federal judge rejects plans for Google digital library

Could Google Books ruling affect college textbook market?

Authors Guild sues universities over online books

eCampus News Staff

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