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#HathiTrust Partnering with Rights-holders

This note represents my own personal views and is not an official organizational statement of any kind.

It is a terrible shame that so many scholars, as well as members of the broader public, are only learning about the important public-interest work of the HathiTrust Digital Library as a consequence of the unfortunate and counter-productive (in my view) lawsuit brought against the organization and its university partners by The Authors Guild and a group of associates. More articulate voices than mine have been speaking of this issue and there are now many discussions available online. A summary story by Steve Kolowich is freely available via Inside Higher Education. Reflecting my perspective is the remarkable piece, “An Open Letter to J.R. Salamanca” by Kevin Smith, the Scholarly Communications Officer at Duke University.

What I want to flag here in the smaller corner of the larger landscape in which I work is the very important work that HathiTrust is doing in cooperation with rights-holders to in-copyright works. My case is from the Open Folklore project on which I work. On both our end (the Open Folklore project team) and on the HathiTrust end, we are still working out strategies, processes, and techniques, but already we have succeeded in partnering together with rights-holders to make very important journal titles for the field of folklore studies freely available to interested users. This is done with the full involvement and consent of the copyright holders and the outcome is a real gain for the world of scholarship and for the many communities who look with interest to the documentary record of human culture and creativity that folklorists have compiled.

HathiTrust is a human-built institution and like other human-built institutions, including most especially The Author’s Guild and U.S. copyright law, it has flaws. When considering the loud noises being made by those seeking to call these flaws to the world’s attention, keep in mind the purposes that HathiTrust was established to address: “The mission of HathiTrust is to contribute to the common good by collecting, organizing, preserving, communicating, and sharing the record of human knowledge.” What purposes do those who are working to shame and discredit HathiTrust serve?

Want to see full text of journals that the Open Folklore project and HathiTrust have made available through generous partnership with the relevant rights-holders?

As is shown on the Open Folklore portal site, we have a very significant number of other in-copyright journal titles ready to be made openly accessible in this way. The rights-holders have already said yes. Its just a matter of moving these works through the relevant permissions and technical systems with HathiTrust. It is deeply discouraging that so many resources–time and attention most of all–are having to be redeployed to deal with The Author’s Guild’s suit (when, The Author’s Guild could instead be a partner and join collaboratively in this work). These resources could be better used for advancing shared goals, such as the desire by rights-holders to make scholarly journals (and books) freely available via HathiTrust.

Given The Author’s Guild’s apparent love of official snarky comments published online, I’ll just close by saying that you could not pay me (as an author of books) to join the The Author’s Guild after watching the organization at work over the past week or so.

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