A Minute With...

Kyle Rimkus, expert on digital preservation

10/16/2012  7:30 am

In what has been described as a major victory for the digital humanities, a federal court earlier this month ruled against the Authors Guild in favor of the HathiTrust, a massive digital archive of library materials converted from print that is co-owned and managed by a partnership of more than 60 academic institutions, including the University of Illinois. Kyle Rimkus, preservation librarian at the U. of I., talked with News Bureau news editor Dusty Rhodes about the impact of this ruling.

Publishers Weekly described this ruling as a “landmark in copyright” law. Describe what the ruling does – and does not – do for librarians and for researchers.

image of librarian kyle rimkusThe HathiTrust currently provides scholars with varying degrees of online access to more than 10 million digitized books, including full access to more than 3 million titles in the public domain. In his ruling, (U.S. District) Judge Harold Baer described the HathiTrust’s collections as an “invaluable contribution to the progress of science and cultivation of the arts.” Judge Baer’s decision will help ensure that researchers retain access to these important scholarly materials.

More specifically, this decision allows libraries to digitize entire works in their collections, even those under copyright, and, in the specific case of the HathiTrust, to use the digital content they create to enhance the research process with full-text search. This does not mean that libraries are now allowed to digitize copyrighted books and unrestrictedly make them available in their entirety to the world. It simply provides much needed legal boundaries for libraries wishing to offer researchers new ways to find materials in their collections.

The ruling highlights the “transformative” aspects of this mass digitization project, such as the enabling of text mining. In what way does digitization “transform” printed books?

The legal doctrine of fair use, or the legal re-use of copyrighted material, holds that “transformative” new works do not infringe on copyright if they add new meaning or value to their sources. A parody of a novel, for example, is different from a translation, or “derivative” work, in that it represents a new take on its source material, and is therefore protected by law as transformative. This decision extends transformative fair use to book digitization at libraries to support features such as full-text search across collections. This means that libraries now have more freedom to improve their services in creative ways. The ruling made it very clear that we may now derive digital texts from copyrighted printed works and make them available, for example, to blind patrons who wouldn’t have been able to access them otherwise.

How are Google Books and the HathiTrust related?

Google Books began as a partnership with several large academic institutions to digitize vast sections of their library holdings. Many of these libraries, led by the University of Michigan, went on to found the HathiTrust, in part to maintain greater control over the hundreds of thousands of newly digitized books they had produced with Google. As a result, there is significant overlap between the HathiTrust Digital Library and Google Books collection; however, the two organizations host, share and preserve their content using different systems and strategies. In addition, the HathiTrust is a nonprofit partnership of academic libraries, while Google is a for-profit corporation.

Last week, the Association of American Publishers dropped a similar lawsuit of its own against Google, settling out of court under terms that have not been made public. The Authors Guild also has a class action lawsuit currently under way against Google and its Google Books project, which is in fact very similar to the HathiTrust suit that they just lost. It is expected that the HathiTrust verdict will have some bearing on the way the Google suit is decided.

What is the U. of I.’s participation in the HathiTrust project, and how has this ruling affected your work?

If anything, this ruling is a weight off of our shoulders. The U. of I. co-leads, with Indiana University, the HathiTrust Research Center, which is an effort to enhance computational access for nonprofit and educational users to works in the public domain. This ruling will allow us to continue to participate in the HathiTrust with a greater sense of ease, and to lead digital projects with a clearer understanding of our legal rights and obligations. Right now, we are continuing to work with scholars to explore the HathiTrust’s potential as a humanities resource through the HathiTrust Research Center, and are contributing content to its Digital Library from our own book digitization program.

How did librarians celebrate this news? The stereotype would suggest very quietly.

The evidence suggests that most librarians celebrated the news by tweeting ecstatically.

 

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