authors’ groups in the United States, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom sued the
University of Michigan and four other universities Monday, 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
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.
`Ìm confident that everything wère doing and everything wère 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
Courant said Google had digitized about 5 million books out of its library so far and had
several million books left to scan. He said it was of “great value» to students and faculty to
get the books online.
In a statement, the authors said they sought to stop the Oct. 13 release of 27 works by
French, Russian and American authors to an estimated 250,000 students and faculty members,
along with the scheduled release in November of an additional 140 books.
Those works, they said, included some in Spanish, Yiddish, French and Russian.
The authors said Michigan announced plans in June to permit unlimited downloads by its
students and faculty members of the scanned works it considered orphans and other universities
joined the project in August.
“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 Danièle 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 authors said books from nearly
every nation have been digitized, including thousands of works published in 2001 in China,
France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Russia, Spain and the United Kingdom, and
hundreds from Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Mexico, The
Netherlands, The Philippines, South Korea, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam.
The lawsuit was filed just days before lawyers for authors and publishers are scheduled to
tell a judge whether they have reached a new deal with the Mountain View, Calif.-based Google
to create a massive online library.
U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin had rejected a $125 million settlement of a 6-year-old lawsuit
after objections were filed by Google rivals, consumer watchdogs, academic experts, literary
agents and even foreign governments.
Chin wrote that many objectors would drop their complaints if Google allowed book owners to
choose to join the library rather than being required to quit it.