Copyright & Access

Our Approach to Copyright

HathiTrust is devoted to archival and access services in support of the record of human knowledge. Many titles in our collection are restricted from access by copyright law. Our mission is to make available as many titles as possible as allowable by law. 

All items in the digital library are either in the public domain, have the necessary permissions to support the level of access permitted, or are simply archived in such a way as to ensure an enduring copy of the content. HathiTrust only provides reading access to those publications where permitted by law or by the rights holder. In cases where a rights holder has granted HathiTrust permission to provide reading access to a publication, HathiTrust retains a record of those permissions (see the Creative Commons Declaration Form).

Access policies are exercised using IP address detection, user authentication, and geography detection in conjunction with the determined copyright status of each item stored in the rights database. These policies are implemented in the PageTurner application, also known as the Book Viewer. See Privacy Policy for more details on how HathiTrust employs personally identifiable information.

All other forms of access (e.g., computational research through the HathiTrust Research Center) are conducted in light of U.S. copyright law and with the guidance of the University of Michigan’s Office of the General Counsel.

What Can You Access in the Collection?

Access takes many forms: reading, researching, downloading, searching. This chart outlines access based on copyright status and member library affiliation.

Rights Status of Items

HathiTrust maintains a database of every item in the Library and a corresponding rights status. Brief descriptions of the most common statuses are given below. The Access and Use Policy describes the rights statements that apply to each book.

Copyright status is initially determined by information in the bibliographic record (see Bibliographic Rights Determination). Volumes that are published in the U.S. more than 95 years ago, or published elsewhere in the world more than 125 years ago, as well as most U.S. federal government documents are treated as public domain. Volumes published outside the U.S. during this time period are treated as public domain for users accessing the volumes from U.S. IP addresses; however, because of differences in international copyright laws, access to these titles is also restricted for users outside the United States.

There are, however, situations where the initial bibliographic determination may be revised from in-copyright to public domain, for instance, if the copyright holder failed to renew the copyright or failed to include a valid copyright notice . Our Copyright Review Program works to identify these titles to make them available in the collection. In addition, under Section 108 of the U.S. Code (Reproduction by Libraries and Archives), volumes that are damaged or deteriorating, and for which an unused replacement copy cannot be obtained at a fair price, may be made available online on Library premises only.

  • Public Domain: In general, these are texts that are 1) U.S. federal government documents 2) published in the U.S. more than 95 years ago, or published elsewhere in the world more than 125 years ago. Volumes may be determined to be in the public domain for other reasons, however. See the link to the HathiTrust Rights Database page above for more information.
  • Public Domain only when viewed in the United States: Works published outside the U.S. prior to 1928 are in the public domain; however, due to the variations in copyright law in countries outside the U.S., it is estimated that 1898 is the earliest date foreign works may still be under copyright. Therefore, users accessing the volume from U.S. IP addresses will have access to the works published outside the U.S. from 1898 through 1927; however, users with non-U.S. IP addresses will not.
  • In-copyright: Texts that have not been verified as being public domain (e.g, .U.S. 1928 or later, and not a government document) are treated as in-copyright and are not available to read online.
  • Available to nobody; blocked for all users: Works with this status may have been deleted or access may be blocked e.g. pending a rights investigation. This is typically a temporary status while an issue is resolved.
  • Available to everyone in the world: In-copyright Works that the University of Michigan has been given permission by the copyright holder to display on a broad basis. The scope of permission granted may restrict some use, such as not allowing the sale of reprints. 
  • Undetermined copyright status: Instances where copyright status could not be determined by automatic processes from bibliographic data, copyright research is only partially complete, or an ambiguous, unclear, or otherwise time-consuming situation was encountered. Items with this status are treated as though they are in copyright.

Detailed descriptions of all statuses, with information about how they are determined and stored, are available on the HathiTrust Rights Database page.

Please use the “Report a Problem” link in the Help menu or email to let us know if our records are incorrectly restricting access to an item. HathiTrust’s policy governing procedures for responding to copyright complaints is set forth in the HathiTrust’s Takedown Policy. Please see also the HathiTrust Access & Use Policy for additional information on the rights status of items in the repository. 

Rights Holders and Copyright

If you are the author of, or hold the rights to, a title in HathiTrust you may grant permission to open access using our Creative Commons Declaration Form. The Creative Commons Declaration Form provides a range of Creative Commons license options for you to choose from. Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that has created legally enforceable licenses that allow rights holders to grant specific uses of their creative work, like your book. The licenses provide a range of choices – from placing your work in the public domain, meaning you are giving up the copyright in the work, to maintaining your copyright while allowing others to copy and use your work with attribution to you. The licenses are flexible and give you control over your work. Please contact for assistance.

Member Library Contributors and Copyright

A common misconception is that member libraries and their affiliates may access titles in copyright that they have contributed. This is incorrect. Even when a member library contributes an item they own that is restricted by copyright, individuals from that institution — and others — are not permitted to access those items due to copyright law. 

Questions About Copyright?

Contact our member-led user support team for help!