Paul Courant on the Authors Guild lawsuit

September 15, 2011

This is a misguided and unnecessary lawsuit.

We’ve spent nearly 200 years as a library, serving the public good by preserving our collections and providing access to them to scholars, students, authors and citizens. For two centuries, we have done that lawfully—and that is true today. We buy books, keep them, care for them, rebind them, and take myriad steps to assure that the scholarly and cultural record are available to our academic community and to the world.

The University of Michigan library has been digitizing books for more than 20 years. Sections 108 and 107 of the federal Copyright Act provide the guidance and the authority for this work, which supports our ability to preserve and to lawfully use the collections that we have purchased and maintained. Moreover, our digitization efforts enable us to make works accessible to people who have print disabilities because the overwhelming majority of works have never been available in an accessible format.  

As a research university, we are a community of authors, and we have deep respect for copyright law and for the rights and interests of authors. Our digitization efforts simply reflect the library’s continuing legacy of prudence in curating the world’s scholarly and cultural record.

Until the complaint, we had been engaged in what we thought was civil discourse with the Authors Guild (and other parties) about the Orphan Works Project. We had hoped that they would bring their resources to bear to aid us in locating copyright holders — which remains the primary goal of the project — in order to reduce the number of potential orphan works.

We are disappointed by the Guild's actions and words, but remain confident that our own actions are not only lawful, but also ethical and indeed even noble.

[Read the related article in the Record Update.]

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Last modified: 09/22/2011