May 17, 2022

Analysis: Chronicle of Higher Education's Jennifer Howard on Orphan Works Lawsuit

Direct to Full Text: In Authors’ Suit Against Libraries, an Attempt to Wrest Back Some Control Over Digitized Works (via Chronicle of Higher Education) by Jennifer Howard

All the defendants participate both in HathiTrust and the Orphan Works Project. HathiTrust digital repository and the University of Michigan say the lawsuit will not derail their efforts. They told The Chronicle they plan to push ahead with the Orphan Works Project. The first batch of works—26 titles—is scheduled to be released on October 13.

Mr. Courant and John Wilkin, executive director of HathiTrust, said they expect to prevail in court, based on their readings of fair use and libraries’ rights in Sections 107 and 108 of the U.S. copyright code. But they also argued that a win for the plaintiffs could put not only the Orphan Works Project but HathiTrust and its preservation mission at risk. The repository contains as many as 10 million volumes in all, including many public-domain works. “The whole HathiTrust effort is incredibly important for libraries in terms of how to deal with the preservation question,” Mr. Wilkin said. If the plaintiffs win, “it would undermine our ability to collaborate effectively around research collections.”

As for the security of the digitized works, Mr. Wilkin and Mr. Courant said they knew of no breaches so far. They outlined strict procedures in place that limit users’ access to material in the repository. Mr. Courant said that even he can’t get access as a reader to in-copyright works in HathiTrust.

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About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.