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Emory Law students get rare experience through landmark Google Books case

Emory University School of Law |

Emory Law students got rare insight into a landmark decision this month on digital copyright via adjunct Professor Joseph Beck’s involvement in the case Authors Guild, Inc. et al v. HathiTrust et al. Beck and his students discussed the then pending case in his copyright class during the spring 2012 term.

On Oct. 10, Judge Harold Baer Jr. of the U.S. Southern District of New York ruled in Beck’s clients’ favor, saying the fair use doctrine protected HathiTrust’s use of millions of copyrighted works.

"I think the students enjoyed studying and participating in both sides of an important 'in-the-news' cutting-edge case, which had recently been filed,” Beck said. “We argued over discovery and briefing strategies as they were being developed, and bounced around ideas for oral argument.”

Beck said the benefit of class discussion was reciprocal.

“I gained from the exchange with bright students who were not shy about arguing,” he said. “Because we had a no-nonsense, fast-track judge, the class got to see the result before they graduate, and long before the case makes it into next year's casebook.” he added.

HathiTrust’s goals were to provide digital search resources for scholars, to preserve deteriorating books and to permit access for blind students. The organization’s work includes nearly 10 million digital volumes, with an estimated 73 percent covered by copyright, according to the recent judgment.

“I think that any way that people can be exposed to more knowledge and works of literature is a step in the right direction,” said Beck’s student, Michael Shultz 13L. “We all benefit by having a more informed and well-read culture, which I think this decision promotes.”

Copyrighted work is protected where applicable by providing only citations and references on the web, but the entire work is accessible for researchers with visual disabilities. For works not in the public domain, or where the copyright owner has not authorized use, a search shows only page numbers where the search term is found and how many times it appears on each page.

The Author’s Guild and more than 20 other U.S. and international plaintiffs objected to multiple copies of the work being created during the digitizing process, as well as to the uses of them, saying the result impinged upon authors’ lawful right to control and benefit from their work.

HathiTrust is a joint effort by more than 60 university libraries, including the Emory University Libraries, which partnered with HathiTrust in 2010. The University of Michigan, the University of California, the University of Wisconsin System, Indiana University and Cornell University were the defendants in the lawsuit.

On Oct. 10, Baer wrote: “I cannot imagine a definition of fair use that would not encompass the transformative uses made by Defendants' MDP [Mass Digitization Project] and would require that I terminate this invaluable contribution to the progress of science and cultivation of the arts that at the same time effectuates the ideals espoused by the ADA [Americans With Disabilities Act].”

In a later release HathiTrust said, “We continue to believe that digitization and preservation of the scholarly record provides important benefits to current and future scholarship. Judge Baer’s statement in this ruling reflects our collective ongoing commitment to lawful uses of our digital library collection, a collection created from our many great print collections and the work of generations of librarians.”

“Too often we get lost in the theory inherent in academia without considering the real-life ramifications of decisions and theories,” Shultz said. “Being part of the litigation strategy process shone a light on the practice of copyright law, and made the class feel like we were part of the practice.”

Beck teaches copyright law. He earned his BA in history from Emory University in1965 and in 1983 he received the Emory Medal, the Emory Alumni Association’s highest award.

Related Links

Authors Guild, Inc. et al v. HathiTrust et al

Joseph Beck’s profile

Emory Libraries Join HathiTrust Digital Library Consortium