Authors Guild, Inc. v. HathiTrust – An Unparalleled Win for the Print-Disabled

In what is certainly the most important case of my career, I am pleased to report that the Second Circuit today radically changed for the better the lives of print-disabled Americans, that is, those who cannot readily access printed text, whether because of blindness, arthritis, dyslexia, cerebral palsy, upper spinal cord injury or a host of other conditions.  The case arose from the Authors Guild’s challenge to a number of universities allowing Google to scan their entire library collections and, in exchange, getting back a digital copy of those scans, currently more than 11 million titles. The decision by these universities to allow limited access to sighted scholars to get search results from these collections and by the University of Michigan to allow blind and other print-disabled scholars unfettered access to these digital scans was upheld by the Court as a fair use of copyrighted materials. Those of us without a print disability take for granted our easy access to our collective intellectual capital stored in libraries.  Now that same access will be available to those with a disability, at least for the collections that have been or will be scanned and converted to accessible formats. Because this decision also found that the copyright law allows scholars to search these collections, more collections will be scanned for that purpose, thereby also offering the prospect of opening wider and wider the doors for those with print disabilities.

I salute George Kerscher for having had the vision when he created the first commercial e-book so many years ago to see that if the public at large embraced e-books, it would be a great boon to those with print disabilities and Jack Bernard at the University of Michigan who recognized from day one that the copying project Google proposed could make print disabilities irrelevant to learning, research and scholarship. The universities were ably represented by Joe Petersen and others at Kilpatrick Townsend, who consented to our intervention on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind and some individual blind scholars, and were great colleagues as well. The National Federation of the Blind recognized that it was important for it to intervene in this pivotal case.  And, of course, the talented work of my colleagues here at Brown, Goldstein & Levy, helped produce briefs and oral argument that mean that the world will be a better place when the sun goes down tonight than it was this morning. This decision will benefit the expansion of our knowledge, research and scholarship for everyone, those with and without disabilities.

Authored by

Dan Goldstein FOUNDING PARTNER, RETIRED, 1982-2017