Landmark Copyright Decision Defends Fair Use

I just learned this morning that an important lawsuit was decided Friday afternoon. It has a rather detailed and complicated back story, more so than I can cover on this blog. But this is a case that needs to be covered. Back in 2008 a coalition of publishers sued the Georgia State University for copyright infringement. To be more exact, the librarians at GSU had been copying and handing out to students material that was published by these publishers. The complaint covered 99 different incidents where the GSU librarians copied and shared content that had at one point been purchased by GSU (or another library). Note that the librarians weren't pirates; they were operating under the fair use exception to US copyright laws, namely the one covering academic uses. I had been following this case ever since it first came across my radar last spring, but it only just now came to fruition.

Judge Orinda Evans's decision consists of a 350 page brief which you can find here (PDF). It's far too long for even me to have read already, but the short answer is that Judge Evans found that the vast majority of the 99 examples listed in the original complaint were not in fact copyright infringement. The librarians were correct in believing that their activities were allowed by the fair use exception.

This decision affects far more than just what a few librarians were doing.  The fair use exceptions debated in the lawsuit owe their existence more to court decisions and legal theory than they do to the laws which have been passed by Congress. Had this lawsuit gone the way the publishers wanted, it would likely have affected the very concept of fair use. At the least, institutions everywhere would have been forced to reevaluate their activities. This lawsuit was so far ranging that I think it would not have been out of the question for libraries to go so far as to remove photocopiers from public access (out of fear of liability).

Now, I've been following the case  but I have not posted on it. This case was complex enough that I think it requires a legal scholar to fully explain it, so I will direct you to experts like the blog Scholarly Communications @ Duke.

But this might be new to some, so here is a list of past coverage that I found useful. Note that it is in chronological order.

About Nate Hoffelder (11474 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

2 Comments on Landmark Copyright Decision Defends Fair Use

  1. Very interesting, Nate !

  2. It’s easy to get carried away about this. It’s a relatively straightforward copyright-vs-fair use lawsuit. In the US, fair use ultimately *must* be decided in court, so these lawsuits happen. The reason the decision is so lengthy is that each alleged infringement must be considered individually.

    From a quick scan, most of the instances were allowed as fair use because it was a university doing the copying, *and* the copies were for class use, *and* it was non-fiction academic material, *and* the portion of the work that was copied was quite small (usually one chapter), *and* no book sales were lost, *and* digital-excerpt sales were either unavailable or the losses on sales of digital excerpts were minimal. Only the last part weighed against Fair Use for those cases.

    A surprising number of the claims were dismissed because there was no showing of copyright infringement in the first place. Either the publisher failed to provide paperwork showing that they had the rights to publish the specific chapter in question (oops), or failed to show that the work was even copyrighted (oops again), or there was no evidence that the copies were ever distributed. Sloppy work by the plaintiff’s counsel, if you ask me.

    The ones that went against the University were ones with more than one chapter being copied:
    * Claim 11: Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research 3e: four chapters
    * Claim 16: Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research 2e: two chapters
    * Claim 22: Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research 3e: seven chapters
    * Claim 72: The Power Elite: two chapters
    * Claim 74: Utilization-Focused Evaluation: two chapters
    The first three all involved the same professor.

4 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Score one for the Good Guys | Circulating Zen
  2. Georgia State Copyright Case Decided After Year of Deliberation « Atlibber
  3. Decision in Copyright Case Impacts Posting Learning Material Online « Bethel Libraries
  4. Appeals Court Overturns GSU Library Fair Use Case - But For Good Reasons - The Digital Reader

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