Academic libraries’ indexing of digitized works counts as fair use. So says the federal judge overseeing a major copyright-infringement lawsuit brought last year by the Authors Guild against the HathiTrust digital repository and its university partners.
At stake was the uses the libraries could make of millions of scanned books. “I cannot imagine a definition of fair use that would not encompass the transformative uses” made by the defendants, Judge Harold Baer, of the U.S. District Court in New York, wrote in a ruling issued late Wednesday.
James Grimmelmann, a professor of law at New York Law School, observed on his blog, The Laboratorium: “The opinion doesn’t even make it seem like a close case. On every substantive copyright issue, HathiTrust won.”
For more on this story, see a Chronicle news analysis.
There was more good news for Georgia State University and more bad news for the publisher plaintiffs on Friday in a closely watched lawsuit over the use of copyrighted material in e-reserves. In May, Judge Orinda Evans of the U.S. District Court in Atlanta handed down a ruling that dismissed all but five of the copyright-infringement claims brought by Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, and SAGE Publishers against the university. On Friday afternoon, Judge Evans issued an order denying the plaintiffs’ request for injunctive and declaratory relief for those five infringements. She ordered the defendants to make sure that the university’s copyright policies are “not inconsistent” with her May ruling. She also awarded Georgia State “reasonable attorney’s fees,” as well as other costs to be determined.
The court is “convinced that defendants did try to comply with the copyright laws,” Judge Evans wrote on Friday. “On balance, the court finds that defendants are the prevailing party in this case.” Representatives of the plaintiffs said they would review Friday’s order before commenting.
“The judge’s order is a validation that the university has acted in good faith within the bounds of fair use,” said President Mark P. Becker of Georgia State. “We are pleased to have helped set the bar going forward.”
The rising cost of journal subscriptions has created an “untenable situation” for the Harvard Library, according to the library’s Faculty Advisory Council. In a frank open letter to the Harvard faculty, the council warns that the library faces a subscription crisis “exacerbated by efforts of certain publishers” to bundle journals into high-priced packages. The letter does not name those publishers but says that Harvard now pays almost $3.75-million a year for their journals. “Continuing these subscriptions on their current footing is financially untenable,” the council says. It urges faculty and students to “move prestige to open access,” and lays out several steps that researchers and librarians can take. Those include depositing papers in DASH, Harvard’s institutional repository; submitting to open-access journals or those with “reasonable” costs; urging scholarly professional associations to adopt more library-friendly policies; and insisting on subscription contracts “in which the terms can be made public.” Led by Robert C. Darnton, Harvard’s university librarian, the council includes faculty representatives from a variety of disciplines.
A federal appeals court heard arguments on Wednesday in a closely watched case involving the Belfast Project, a collection of oral-history records of the late-20th-century civil strife in Northern Ireland housed at Boston College, the Associated Press reported. Lawyers for the two lead researchers on the project, Anthony McIntyre and Ed Moloney, argued that former IRA members they had interviewed confront “the real risk of physical harm” if the records were turned over to U.S. attorneys, who are seeking them on behalf of the British government. Boston College decided earlier not to appeal a lower court’s ruling that it must turn over the records; Mr. McIntyre and Mr. Moloney brought the appeal on their own. Mr. Moloney has also “blamed the school for the mess because it broke a contractual obligation to convene an oversight committee for his work,” according to The Boston Globe. Boston College, in its turn, said that the researcher should have told the people he interviewed that he might not be able to guarantee their confidentiality in court, the newspaper said. Last month a group of Boston College faculty members petitioned the university’s president to investigate how it had handled the oral-history project. “It seems to have had very little oversight, and we want to know why,” the historian who organized the petition told the Globe.
Eighty-one publishers of scholarly journals today expressed their strong opposition to the proposed Federal Research Public Access Act, or FRPAA. The bill, introduced as HR 4004 in the U.S. House of Representatives and as S 2096 in the Senate, would require the results of federally supported research be made public within six months of publication. “FRPAA is little more than an attempt at intellectual eminent domain, but without fair compensation to authors,” Tom Allen, president of the Association of American Publishers, said in a written statement. The association, along with an advocacy group called the DC Principles Coalition, sent letters to Congress on behalf of the journal publishers who oppose the legislation. Signers include the American Chemical Society, the American Mathematical Society, the American Psychological Association, Cambridge University Press, Elsevier, Springer, and John Wiley & Sons.
The personal archive of the linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky will go to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries, the university announced today. Mr. Chomsky is an emeritus professor there. The collection includes his personal papers and portions of his library. It “will be a complete archival resource that will provide researchers with unique insight into Professor Chomsky’s thinking, and the development of the field of linguistics, as well as his views on significant issues in social activism from post-World War II” through the present, said Tom Rosko, MIT archivist, in a statement announcing the acquisition.
A bill introduced today in the U.S. House of Representatives would require federal agencies with external research budgets of $100-million or more to provide electronic access to articles based on research they help pay for. The bill, the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2012, was introduced by Mike Doyle, a Democrat of Pennsylvania. It would require free online public access to peer-reviewed manuscripts or published articles “as soon as practicable, but not later than six months after publication.” It also calls for those articles to be archived in “a stable digital repository.” Previous versions of the legislation were introduced in 2006 and 2009 but went nowhere. The 2012 bill arrives at a time when public access to taxpayer-supported research is a hot issue again. Another proposed bill, the Research Works Act, would prevent federal agencies from requiring such access.
A coalition of 10 library and open-access advocacy groups has sent a letter to Congress opposing HR 3699, the controversial Research Works Act. The American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries, the Association of College and Research Libraries, Creative Commons, the Public Library of Science, and the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, or Sparc, are among those who signed the letter. The proposed bill “would unfairly and unnecessarily prohibit federal agencies from conditioning research grants to ensure that all members of the public receive timely, equitable, online access to articles that report the results of federally funded research that their tax dollars directly support,” the letter says. “Unfortunately, HR 3699 is designed to protect the business interests of a small subset of the publishing industry, failing to ensure that the interests of all stakeholders in the research process are adequately balanced.” Some scholarly associations and researchers have also weighed in against the Research Works Act.
Boston College must give prosecutors more transcripts and recordings from the Belfast Project, The Boston Globe has reported. A federal judge, William B. Young, has ruled that the college must release the records of seven people interviewed for the project, which collected accounts of participants in Northern Ireland’s sectarian troubles. Federal prosecutors, acting on behalf of the British government, want to see records related to the killing of Jean McConville, who was kidnapped and murdered in 1972 because she was suspected of being an informant. The case has researchers worried about their ability to guarantee confidentiality to oral-history subjects. “We are disappointed with [Young’s] ruling in light of the effect it will have on the enterprise of oral history,’’ Jack Dunn, a spokesman for the college, told the Globe in an e-mail. “We will take the time allotted us to review our legal options, which include the right to appeal this decision.’’ According to the Globe, it’s not yet clear whether U.S. prosecutors will turn the records over to the British authorities.
Reports that Harvard Library employees were being let go en masse circulated on social-media sites Thursday, following town-hall-style meetings to update staff on Harvard’s continuing project to restructure its libraries. A librarian’s tweet announcing that “All of Harvard library staff have effectively been fired” was widely retweeted, and concern spread quickly (see the Twitter hashtag #hlth).
In a statement sent to news organizations, Kira Poplowski, the library’s director of communications, suggested the reaction was overblown. “It is inaccurate to say that all library staff will need to reapply for their positions,” Ms. Poplowski said. Thursday’s meetings focused on “immediate next steps” in the transition, “which include recommending a new organizational design,” she said. Details about how and when the changes will take place, and how they will affect the staff, will be shared next month at another round of meetings, according to Ms. Poplowski.
But in a post on the Feral Librarian blog, Chris Bourg, the assistant university librarian at Stanford University, summed up a general sentiment among observers that the day had produced more questions than answers about the fate of Harvard Library staff and what it meant for other institutions. “Plenty of folks are worried that as Harvard goes, so go other academic libraries—in other words, if massive layoffs can happen at Harvard (with its huge endowments), then no academic library is safe,” Ms. Bourg wrote.