books-stack.jpgSan Diego – Published authors from the United States, Britain, Australia, and Canada are suing five American universities for allegedly “engaging in one of the largest copyright infringements in history.”  The writers claim that the universities planned to digitize out of print books and provide them online to students.

The Authors Guild and the Australian Society of Authors were among groups joining eight individual authors to file the lawsuit on Monday in a Manhattan district court.  The University of Michigan, the University of California, the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, and Cornell are accused of pooling the unauthorized scans of an estimated seven million copyright-protected books, which they allegedly obtained from Google.  Apparently, the digitized files were being stored in a repository organized by the University of Michigan.

“This is an upsetting and outrageous attempt to dismiss authors’ rights,” stated Angelo Loukakis, executive director of the Australian Society of Authors.  “This group of American universities has no authority to decide whether, when or how authors forfeit their copyright protection.  These aren’t orphaned books, they’re abducted books.” he added.  With out of print books, also know as orphan works, it is difficult to locate the writers, making them prime targets for copyright theft.

According to Paul Courant, the University of Michigan’s dean of libraries, said the digital library project called the HathiTrust, planned to make books available online to staff and students this Fall.  He added that the university had been in recent discussions with the Authors Guild and was surprised by the allegations.

Courant stated, “I’m confident that everything we’re doing and everything we’re contemplating doing is lawful use of these works.”

The first set of the orphaned books, 27 works by French, Russian, and American authors is scheduled to be released to an estimated 250,000 students and faculty members on October 13th.  In November, an additional 140 books, including works in Spanish, Yiddish, French, and Russian are planned for release. 

Authors have been in a long-running battle with Google over its plans to create a massive online library to include out of print books.  After the Authors Guild reached an agreement with Google over a copyright infringement claim in 2008, a New York judge rejected the settlement after objections were made by consumer watchdog groups, academic experts, literary agents, and foreign governments. 

Another hearing in that case is expected this week.