Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Three publishers are suing Georgia State University for copyright infringement, alleging “systematic, widespread, and unauthorized copying and distribution" of numerous copyrighted materials. The publishers are Sage, Oxford and Cambridge. The University has not commented on the lawsuit, but the Association of American University Presses, in supporting the publishers, said in a statement released today that
In todayʼs universities, it is increasingly rare for students to buy assigned books at the campus bookstore or purchase coursepacks at the local copyshop. Instead, professors often distribute assigned course readings electronically through digital course management, e-reserves, or similar systems. While many universities seek legally required permissions, others do not and simply distribute substantial excerpts from books and journals without permission or compensation. This has become a significant problem for university presses, who depend upon the income due them to continue to publish the specialized scholarly books required to educate students and to advance university research....The basic legal issue in the suit, namely whether permissions are required for course materials, was forcefully addressed in Basic Books v. Kinkoʼs Graphics Corp. (1991), which held that the coursepacks sold by Kinkoʼs required the payment of permissions fees to publishers, and that the reproduction of a single chapter was “quantitatively [and] qualitatively substantial” under the Copyright Act. While AAUP respects the doctrine of fair use, which permits spontaneous and limited uses of copyrighted material for instruction, it is clear that universities need to seek permission for more regular and substantial uses of excerpts in coursepacks and other assigned reading. That the delivery method for coursepacks is digital rather than print-on-paper does not change the nature of the use or the content, and such uses are governed by the same legal principles established in earlier cases....
Many universities have understood these realities and have promulgated strong institutional policies on the digital use of copyrighted materials. Over the last two years, publishers have had productive discussions with several universities including Cornell, Syracuse, Marquette and Hofstra, all of whom have recently adopted sound copyright policies about the use of digital course materials. Several mechanisms currently exist for universities to obtain clearance for the use of these materials, whether through individual publishers or the Copyright Clearance Center. While many universities have adopted a centralized approach and treated electronic course materials as they do paper, Georgia State has flatly rebuffed repeated attempts by publishers to work toward an acceptable university policy and has continued to foster a system of widespread copyright abuse. The decision to file a suit is never easy, and always a last resort. It is particularly painful for non-profit publishers to sue a university, even if in this situation it was unavoidable. “It feels like suing a member of the family” said AAUP Executive Director Peter Givler. “Unfortunately, the alleged infringement is like stealing from a member of the family.”