An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The coronavirus crisis has forced the closure of libraries around the world, depriving the public of access to millions of printed books. Books old enough to be in the public domain may be available for free download online. Many recent books are available to borrow in e-book form. But there are many other books – especially those published in the mid-to-late 20th century – that are hard to access without going to a physical library. A consortium of university libraries called HathiTrust recently announced a solution to this problem, called the Emergency Temporary Access Service. It allows participating HathiTrust member libraries to offer their patrons digital scans of books that they can “check out” and read online.
HathiTrust has a history of pushing the boundaries of copyright. It was the defendant in a landmark 2014 ruling that established the legality of library book scanning. At the time, HathiTrust was only allowing people with print disabilities to access the full text of scanned books. Now HathiTrust is expanding access to more people – though still with significant limits. The program is only available to patrons of member libraries like the Cornell library. Libraries can only “lend” as many copies of the book as it has physical copies on its shelves. Loans last for an hour and are automatically renewed if a patron is still viewing a book at the hour’s end. If you want to read a book that’s currently in use by another patron, you have to wait until they’re finished.
The service differs from the Internet Archive’s National Emergency Library in that it limits the “lending” of copies to how many physical copies there are available on its shelves. “During the pandemic, the Internet Archive isn’t limiting the number of people who can ‘borrow’ a book simultaneously,” reports Ars.
“Cornell University legal scholar James Grimmelmann tells Ars that the limits on the HathiTrust program will put the group in a stronger position if it is ever challenged in court,” the report adds. “The same fair use doctrine that allows HathiTrust to scan books in the first place might also justify what the organization is doing now – though that’s far from certain.”