Such a use — scanning so people can search the full text, but not read the full text — is “transformative” and therefore a “fair use” and not a copyright violation, the Second Circuit held today in Authors Guild, Inc. v. HathiTrust (2d Cir. June 10, 2014). An excerpt, though there’s of course a lot more going on in the opinion:

Turning to the first [fair use] factor, we conclude that the creation of a full‐text searchable database is a quintessentially transformative use…. [T]he 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. Indeed, we can discern little or no resemblance between the original text and the results of the HDL [HathiTrust Digital Library] full‐text search.

There is no evidence that the Authors write with the purpose of enabling text searches of their books. Consequently, the full‐text search function does not “supersede[] the objects [or purposes] of the original creation,” Campbell, 510 U.S. at 579 (internal quotation marks omitted). The HDL does not “merely repackage[] or republish[] the original[s],” Leval, 103 HARV. L. REV. at 1111, or merely recast “an original work into a new mode of presentation.” Instead, by enabling full‐text search, the HDL adds to the original something new with a different purpose and a different character.

Full‐text search adds a great deal more to the copyrighted works at issue than did the transformative uses we approved in several other cases. For example, in Cariou v. Prince, we found that certain photograph collages were transformative, even though the collages were cast in the same medium as the copyrighted photographs. Similarly, in Bill Graham Archives v. Dorling Kindersley Ltd., we held that it was a transformative use to include in a biography copyrighted concert photos, even though the photos were unaltered (except for being reduced in size).

The court also concludes that scanning books for full-text access by the blind is also a fair use. And the court concludes that the fair use status of a third use, copying for preservation purposes, cannot be decided on this record:

The HDL will permit member libraries to create a replacement copy of a book, to be read and consumed by patrons, if (1) the member already owned an original copy, (2) the member’s original copy is lost, destroyed, or stolen, and (3) a replacement copy is unobtainable at a fair price. The Authors claim that this use infringes their copyrights.

Even though the parties assume that this issue is appropriate for our determination, we are not convinced that this is so. The record before the district court does not reflect whether the plaintiffs own copyrights in any works that would be effectively irreplaceable at a fair price by the Libraries and, thus, would be potentially subject to being copied by the Libraries in case of the loss or destruction of an original. The Authors are not entitled to make this argument on behalf of others, because § 501 of “the Copyright Act does not permit copyright holders to choose third parties to bring suits on their behalf.”

Finally, the court concludes that claims related to the now-indefinitely-suspended Orphan Works Project are likewise not ripe for resolution.

UPDATE: I updated the first sentence to make clear that the full-text search let people search through the full text, but not read the full text. (The scanning for the blind does allow full-text access.)