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What Does the Hathitrust Decision Mean For Libraries?, by Jonathan Band, LLRX.com


The library community welcomed the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Authors Guild v. HathiTrust, __ F. 3d __, 2014 WL 2576342 (2nd Cir. 2014). [Note – a copy of the decision is available here via EFF]. The decision has implications for libraries that go far beyond the specific facts of the case. This paper offers some preliminary thoughts on what these implications may be.

The broadest implication of decision arises out of a footnote. Ever since the adoption of the library exceptions in 17 U.S.C. § 108, rights holders have argued that section 108 limits the availability of fair use to libraries, notwithstanding the savings clause in section 108(f)(4) that states explicitly that ‘nothing in this section in any way affects the right of fair use as provided by section 107.’ In this litigation, the Authors Guild repeatedly argued that section 108 restricted fair use. Judge Baer rejected this argument in the district court, and the Second Circuit rejected it again in footnote 4. Citing the savings clause, the Second Circuit stated that ‘we do not construe § 108 as foreclosing our analysis of the Libraries’ activities under fair use….’ HathiTrust at *4, n. 4. Thus, the decision holds unambiguously that libraries may take full advantage of the fair use right.

The decision also demonstrates how the fair use right applies in the context of a specific library activity: mass digitization. . . .