Services for Students with Disabilities

Angell Hall at night after a rainfall

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, October 12, 2012

A recent case settled in U.S. District Court provided significant legal support of current U-M policy regarding academic accommodations.

Summary

HathiTrust Digital Library is a large-scale collaborative repository of digital content from research libraries across the country and around the world including the University of Michigan, the University of California, Indiana University, Cornell University, and the University of Wisconsin. As part of the Google Books project, university library collections were digitized and the works given to HathiTrust. To date, HathiTrust contains almost 10 million digital volumes. The repository is administered by Indiana University and the University of Michigan. The Authors Guild alleges that the HathiTrust and its partnership universities violated the Copyright Act by engaging in mass digitization of their collections. HathiTrust argued that educational fair use allows them to scan the material and make it available. Because these works represent the largest collection of works accessible to people who are blind and print disabled, several other groups, including the National Federation for the Blind, weighed in, arguing that HathiTrust’s activities counted as fair use and contributed to the greater good. 

Regulation Cited

Students with disabilities are entitled to equal access to all aspects of education, including library collection. Providing access for students with print disabilities constitutes a “transformative use” under the fair use provision of the Copyright Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Ruling

District Judge Harold Baer Jr. declared that the HathiTrust’s scanning and use of copyrighted works counted as fair use under copyright law. In a summary judgment, he threw out the Authors Guild’s arguments that HathiTrust and its partners had trampled copyright law by scanning millions of works, and held that providing access for students with print disabilities constitutes a “transformative use” under the fair use provision of the Copyright Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. In addition, Section 121 of the Copyright Act (the “Chafee Amendment”) permits university libraries to digitize their collections for distribution and use by people who are blind. Those uses include making copies for preservation and full-text searching and indexing, and to help visually disabled patrons discover material. HathiTrust does not make copyrighted works openly available to the public. “The copies serve an entirely different purpose than the original works,” the judge wrote. He noted that Hathi- Trust’s search functions “have already given rise to new methods of academic inquiry such as text mining.”

Impact on U-M Policy

The University of Michigan will now be permitted to make HathiTrust’s entire 10 million volume digital collection available to Americans who are blind, revolutionizing access to digital books by people with print disabilities.