Are Digital Scans of Library Books a Fair Use? Apparently, Yes!

In 2011, many libraries provided Google with books, which were scanned and added to their Google Books digital media project.   The Author’s Guild sued HathiTrust, a website which contained scanned material including the Google Books content, and claimed that the scans violated the copyright of the original works.  However, in the case Author’s Guild v. Hathitrust, a federal court found that the scanned versions of books constituted a fair use.  The Author’s Guild is currently appealing the decision (1).

In the federal court decision, it was ruled that the book scans were a transformative use of the original books and therefore a fair use.  The transformation was that the scans preserved the content, provided a way for the works to be searched using a search engine, and allowed for access by disabled people who were unable to read the original books.  Finally, it was ruled that there was no evidence of financial harm to the authors of the original work, which reenforces the fair use ruling (3).

The Author’s Guild has a very different (and possibly biased) point of view: that the digital scans are not a transformative use, and that they violate authors’ rights.  In fact, they state in their post “Reject Google’s Risky, Market-Killing, Profit-Driven Project” that the authors’ rights to control the distribution of their work are infringed upon, and that their work is at risk of theft while a possible market is destroyed (2).

Personally, I believe that if a book is already available in public libraries, it should also be available online.  There should be no impact on the profits of authors, since I could already access their book at the local library.  The only difference to me is that it is now more convenient to gain information more quickly and efficiently.  The court also made a good argument for a transformative use, since the entire text of these books becomes search-enabled due to the scanning.  Hopefully the appeal fails so everyone will be able to easily access this wealth of information!


1. “Author’s Guild v. Hathitrust”.  Wikipedia.  20 July 2013 (Accessed 4 March 2014). <>

2. “Reject Google’s Risky, Market-Killing, Profit-Driven Project”.  The Author’s Guild.  17 September 2013 (Accessed 4 March 2014) <>

3. Stim, Rich.  “Summaries of Fair Use Cases”.  Stanford University Libraries.  2013 (Accessed 4 March 2014). <>

John Klodnicki

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