In the context of the fair-use doctrine, the creation of a full-text searchable database is a quintessentially transformative use. The result of a word search is different in purpose, character, expression, meaning, and message from the page (and the book) from which it is drawn.
Twenty authors and authors’ associations sued HathiTrust and a group of universities for copyright infringement seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. In 2004, several research universities allowed Google to electronically scan copyrighted books into a digital library for public use. The universities formed HathiTrust, an organization to set up and operate the HathiTrust Digital Library. HathiTrust’s library permitted three uses of the copyrighted works in their repository – to allow the general public to search for particular terms across all digital copies stored, to allow member libraries to provide patrons with certified print disabilities access to the full text of copyrighted works, and to permit members to create a replacement copy of each work, if the member already owned an original copy, the member’s original copy was lost, destroyed, or stolen, and a replacement copy was unobtainable at a fair price elsewhere. The district court granted a motion for summary judgment in favor of HathiTrust and the universities, declaring that the three uses permitted by HathiTrust’s library were fair uses. The authors and authors’ associations appealed the district court’s decision.
Was the HathiTrust Digital Library’s use of copyrighted material protected against a claim of copyright infringement under the doctrine of fair use?
The court ruled that the doctrine of fair use allowed the libraries to digitize copyrighted works for the purpose of permitting full-text searches because the creation of a full-text searchable database was a transformative use, the copying was not excessive, and the full-text search function did not serve as a substitute for the books that were being searched. Additionally, the doctrine of fair use allowed the libraries to provide full digital access to copyrighted works to their disabled patrons, regardless of its lack of a transformative nature, because Congress had the intent that copyright law accommodate those who are blind and print disabled.Judgment affirmed in part and vacated in part – case remanded.