Skip to main content

Judge Clarifies Georgia State Fair Use Lawsuit: GSU is the Winner

Here’s some more news about the Georgia State University lawsuit over copyright infringement in digital academic course packets. The judge has issued her ruling (PDF) on the remedy she would order concerning the 5 counts out of the 99 infringements submitted that she found were not fair use under the law. This ruling clarifies some confusion over the previous ruling, as both sides were making hay out of claiming they had “won”.

Well, now the judge has clarified the winner: it was Georgia State University. Over the course of the ruling, she clarifies a few points about the nature of the fair use that were fuzzy, having to do with the amount, type, and permissions of the access. And though she does not have to, she orders the plaintiffs to pay the legal costs of the defendant because some of the plaintiffs’ bad behavior over the course of the suit “significantly increased the cost of defending the suit.”

The judge also saw no need to slap GSU with the kind of complicated digital permissions  record keeping system the plaintiffs wanted. It would only serve to increase costs, while in fact through the way they managed their program GSU was already trying to comply with copyright law anyway.

It seems pretty clear that the forces of fair use have won this round. Though the battle is far from over, as the case still has to pass muster on appeal. That could drag on a while, and possibly lead to unexpected consequences. In the mean time, universities can rest secure in the knowledge that they can get by with using a small portion of a given copyrighted work with impunity in their course packets.

Similar Articles


Doug August 15, 2012 um 2:36 pm

It’s not very accurate to characterize the ruling with "the forces of fair use have won this round." The analyses I’ve read suggested that it was overall a loss, because the "bright line" values that Judge Evans utilized to determine if too much material had been used — roughly (but not exactly) one chapter or 1/10th of the book, whichever is less — was substantially less than had been permitted under earlier Fair Use rulings.

The plaintiffs came into this lawsuit ill-prepared, and the judge pinned their ears back. From the ruling: "When the trial began, Plaintiffs chose to pursue 99 claims out of 126. They then dropped 25 claims (and added one) during the trial. As to the remaining 75 claims, no prima facie case was proven in 26 instances. Digital permissions were unavailable in 33 instances. Neither digital nor hard copy permissions were available in 18 cases. … Plaintiffs' failure to narrow their individual infringement claims significantly increased the cost of defending the suit. For these reasons, the Court exercises its discretion to award to Defendants their reasonable attorneys' fees."

In case you lost count, the judge found that of the 99 claims originally brought to trial, over half of them were totally groundless. The plaintiffs were either being incredibly stupid, were throwing everything they could find at the wall in the hopes that something would stick, or were using the extra claims for harassment. The judge gave them the benefit of the doubt on motive: "the Court does not doubt Plaintiffs' good faith in bringing this suit." I don’t know if I could’ve been so generous.

This was a slipshod case from the beginning, and the outcome doesn’t extend Fair Use in any way. If Judge Evans’s "bright line" values become accepted, it will instead restrict Fair Use.

Georgia State and Fair Use: Copyright on Appeal — Columbia Copyright Advisory Office January 23, 2013 um 9:22 am

[…] The court’s detailed opinion has generated some debate about winners and losers, but one winner is clear: The law of fair use.  The court has given the law of fair use for nonprofit […]

Interview – Scott Turow on Amazon: They Dominate eBooks, are Killing Bookstores, & Jeff Bezos Eats Kittens Raw – The Digital Reader October 19, 2013 um 8:21 am

[…] referenced the infringement lawsuit that several publishers lost against Georgia State University last year. That case was decided for GSU because one, the publishers flubbed it, and two, the judge found […]

Write a Comment