Factual Background Edit
Defendants included several universities and university officials that collaborated with Google, Inc. on the Google Books project that digitized library collections. In 2008, a group of participating universities created defendant HathiTrust to be the administrative entity for the HathiTrust Digital Library (HDL).
HDL is a shared digital repository. At the time of the litigation, HathiTrust's membership included approximately eighty colleges, universities, and other nonprofit institutions. HDL contained digital copies of more than ten million works, "published over many centuries, written in a multitude of languages, [and] covering almost every subject imaginable." HathiTrust used the digital copies (1) to create a database for full-text searching by the general public, (2) to permit library patrons with certified print disabilities to have access to full texts of works, and (3) to allow libraries to replace their original copies that were lost, destroyed, or stolen where a replacement was unobtainable at a fair price elsewhere.
Trial Court Proceedings Edit
In October 2012, the district court ruled in favor of HathiTrust on issues relating to full- text searches, print-disabled access, and preservation. The court found these activities to be largely transformative and ultimately protected by fair use, further opining that "the underlying rationale for copyright law is enhanced" by the HDL. The court did not reach the merits of the claims regarding the Orphan Works Project, however, finding instead that the issue was not ripe for adjudication in light of the projects suspension.
Appellate Court Proceedings Edit
The appellate court held that the HDL's first use — creation of a full-text searchable database — was fair. It found that use "quintessentially transformative" because "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." The court further held that the copies were reasonably necessary to facilitate the HDL's services to the public and to mitigate the risk of disaster or data loss. In addition, it held that the full-text search posed no harm to any existing or potential traditional market for the copyrighted works.
The court also held that the second use — access for the print-disabled — was fair. It concluded that providing such access was a valid purpose under the first statutory factor, even though it was not transformative. The court held that it was reasonable for the defendants to retain both text and image copies because the text copies were required for text searching and text-to-speech capabilities, and the image copies provide an additional method by which many disabled patrons can access the works. Finally, the court held that the fourth factor favored fair use given the insignificance of the present-day market for books accessible to the handicapped.