Australia’s Society of Authors joins US lawsuit over digital book debacle


Australia’s Society of Authors has today announced it’s joined a lawsuit against significant American universities, once again debating the contentious issue of digital copies of books.

In a statement this morning, the Australian group confirmed it’d take part in the suit against high profile American universities including University of Michigan and the University of California, making a stand for author rights.

It’ll be joined by several other author organisations in the case including the US Authors Guild and similar groups in the UK and Quebec. Eight individual authors — including Pat Cummings, Angelo Loukakis, Roxana Robinson and Danièle Simpson — are also named as plaintiffs in the suit.

The case essentially revolves around scanned copies of books, that in the first instance were provided to the named universities by search giant Google. After being approached by Google asking for the loan of copyright-free books that it wanted to scan for its own Books product, each uni was provided with a copy of the scanned items.

Since then, a number of universities and institutes worked together to create a location where all the scanned books could be made accessible to students, for free and at anytime. Not long after, HathiTrust was formed to manage the collection and distribution of the “unauthorised” scanned books.

The suit suggests the books uploaded to HathiTrust may be breaching copyright, given they are out of control of the universities that own the hard copy editions and are “unauthorized” scans.

Secondly, the case attacks the recent announcement by HathiTrust that it’d soon begin making available ‘orphan books’ — books that can be digitalised because they don’t have a copyright owner that can be located or identified to ask permission but are still covered by US copyright laws — for students.

This, says the Society of Authors executive director Angelo Loukakis, is damaging to authors who depend on book sales for their livelihood.

“Maybe it doesn’t seem like it to some, but writing books is an author’s real-life work and livelihood,” Loukakis said today.

“This group of American universities have no authority to decide whether, when or how authors forfeit their copyright protection. These aren’t orphan books, they’re abducted books.”

A good outcome, the group says, would be for the HathiTrust group to be shelved, with the orphan book project no longer pursued.

Although not named in today’s suit, Google is expected to return to court on Thursday for a status hearing with Judge Denny Chin in its own battle against author groups for infringing on copyright with its Google Books product.

In March, a proposed settlement by Google was rejected by the Federal Court in the US, who said the proposal wasn’t “fair, adequate, and reasonable.”


  1. Are these guys one of the lobby groups that are responsible for high book prices in Australia so they can protect Australian authors? Sure looks like it: shows them lauding the decision of the Minister for Innovation to keep these dumb territorial copyright restrictions that ensure book prices in Australia are far, far, far above any other civilised country.

    This is DESPITE a Productivity Commission report that indicated quite clearly that the current restrictions are bad for Australians and bad for business (LawFont has more:

    There’s simply no incentive for Australians to buy books locally any more because the protectionist racket keeps prices high. I now buy all my books from The Book Depository; they will ship me a book from the United Kingdom for cheaper than I can buy it in Australia. They’re cheaper, they’re fast, they have a great range, and their service is awesome. You’d be insane not to buy from them.

    I have no sympathy for these entities – they need to display adaptability. Flailing around lobbying and suing is what the MPAA/RIAA tried to protect their failing, dated business model – and it has failed miserably for them so far.

    The saddest part is probably the downfall of the Australian bookstores. No more Borders, no more A&R, and I’ll be massively surprised if the others can hang around as more and more people discover places like BD where they can buy books at massive discount.

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