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HathiTrust Rights & Copyright Issues

HathiTrust Rights Determination

The rights status for the majority of books flowing into HathiTrust is determined using an automated algorithm run against a volume’s bibliographic metadata to check the publication date and the country where the book was published. Books published in the United States before 1923, or outside the United States before 1870, automatically receive a “public domain” rights status and become full view for everyone in the world to read. Books published outside the United States between 1870 and 1922, automatically receive a “public domain – US” rights status and become open access only for people using an United States IP address.

HathiTrust’s algorithm is conservative by necessity. To ensure compliance with copyright law, the algorithm errs in the direction of keeping books closed rather than inadvertently opening a book which may still be in copyright. Books published in the US between 1923 and 1963 are automatically closed by the algorithm, yet if a book from this era’s copyright was not formally registered and renewed it may legally be in the public domain. The copyright status of books published outside of the U.S. is often determined by the date of the author’s death, but since this information is seldom included in bibliographic metadata, an algorithm cannot make an accurate copyright determination for volumes published after 1870.

For more information on how HathiTrust makes rights determinations, see:

HathiTrust's Copyright Information Management System (CRMS)

The CRMS project was created to alleviate the uncertain copyright status of subsets of the HathiTrust corpus. Volunteer reviewers from many HathiTrust partner libraries, including UC Irvine, UCLA, UCSF and CDL, manually reviewed hundreds of thousands of HathiTrust volumes and helped determine that over 50% of those reviewed were no longer protected by copyright.

With funding from IMLS, a comprehensive guide to understanding the collaboration, research methods and technology behind CRMS was published and is available for free online: see Finding the Public Domain.

For more information on CRMS:

Opening Access to HathiTrust Volumes

There are certain situations in which a HathiTrust volume with restricted view may be opened for full view to the public:

Opening Access to UC Owned Volumes

Volumes for which the University of California owns the copyright can be opened for access on HathiTrust with permission from the appropriate UC copyright delegates. Additionally, monographs published before 1977 without a formal copyright notice may be opened for access in HathiTrust and Google Books. Contact the Mass Digitization Team for more information.

Opening Content in HathiTrust (for Authors & Rights Holders)

Authors or rights holders of volumes in the HathiTrust Digital Library that are closed for reading access due to copyright restrictions have the option for their works to be opened for full view access. Please see HathiTrust's documentation to learn about the rights opening process.

Authors who need help with regaining the copyright to their works from publishers ("rights reversion") will find guidance from the Authors Alliance

Additionally, Google Books has a process whereby authors and rights holders can open their books in Google Books.

Last updated: March 23, 2017
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