Paul Courant's Second Act
But the technology that lets scholars do their reading and research on computer screens instead of paper arrived before important legal and ethical questions were decided. That's why writers, editors, publishers, and academics are watching both lawsuits closely. In its 2005 lawsuit, the Authors Guild argued that the scanning process itself amounted to "a brazen violation of copyright law." The new litigation was triggered by plans to share those digital volumes: in a press release, guild president and best- selling writer Scott Turow zinged HathiTrust's intention to let students and faculty download books that are new enough to still be in copyright but whose authors could not be tracked down. Witheringly, Turow pointed out that as soon as the archive released a list of these "orphan work candidates," guild members and others quickly located many of the works' authors or their heirs. The purported orphans' parents, Turow sniped, included "authors who are signing e-book agreements and the literary estates of Pulitzer Prize winners."
Courant, sixty-four, looks unhappy as a reporter reads that quote aloud. A voracious reader whose librarian mother still volunteers at the New York Public Library, he does not relish being attacked by the country's largest writers' union. In a press release, he called the lawsuit "misguided and unnecessary." But he says he can't talk in depth about the suit while it's pending, wryly joking, "They don't allow me out without a university lawyer!"