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Cornell, HathiTrust prevail in digital book copyright suit

A federal district court has dismissed a copyright infringement suit brought by the Authors Guild that would have prevented the digitizing of books by university libraries and restricted use of many of the digitized works.

The Oct. 10 ruling will allow HathiTrust, a partnership of 69 research institutions, including Cornell, to continue to use a collection of some 10 million books in digital form. Cornell and several other universities will also be able to continue a partnership with Google to scan books from their collections. Cornell also expects to revive its investigation into making digitized books available to blind and print-disabled students.

In 2007 Cornell joined five libraries whose books are scanned for the Google Books Library Project, which now offers a searchable database of some 20 million volumes contributed by libraries and publishers. Public domain works can be read in full online; users may see only snippets of copyrighted works, with links to buy the book. Cornell had been digitizing small collections of specialized materials for 15 years, accumulating perhaps 15,000 volumes up to that point, according to Peter Hirtle, senior policy adviser in Cornell University Library. With the Google project, about 5,000 volumes a week go to Google for scanning.

"It is a tremendous benefit to have a partner like Google that has the capacity and most of all is willing to pay for scanning," Hirtle said.

In 2008 Cornell joined HathiTrust, a consortium formed partly to ensure that the books digitized by libraries would be preserved if Google were to discontinue its project. More than 400,000 Cornell volumes have already been contributed to HathiTrust's repository of more than 10 million, including many rare, out-of-print, and deteriorating materials. The HathiTrust collection is searchable like Google's and includes specialized tools for scholars that allow, for example, searches of word frequency over the entire database.

Visit the Cornell Chronicle for the full story.