A subtle legal filing last week has many in the university community gnashing their teeth at the prospect of the Department of Justice siding with publishers in a major case headed to the U.S. Supreme Court which may help define the boundaries of "fair use."
The DOJ filed a motion for extension of time to file a brief in the case of Cambridge University v. Becker, otherwise known as the Georgia State Copyright Case. While not conclusive, the fact the DOJ filed this motion signals that the DOJ may enter the case on the side of publisher.
And that possibility has disappointed, upset, and in some cases, terrified university librarians and university communities across the country.
The case is complex. The District Court's decision on May 11, 2012 was 340 pages long. That's effectively a book on copyright and fair use.
In essence, the case is about 99 examples where the Georgia State University library electronically copied portions of hardcover books used in classes at the university -- so-called e-reserves. For many, the galling part of this litigation is that it was brought by Cambridge University Press and two other university presses. Many consider that these university presses are simply carrying water for bigger for-profit publishers, who have used the non-profit university presses to present a more sympathetic case.
The District Court held in favor of Georgia State in 94 of the 99 copies at issue. The Court found a presumption that if the copying involved less than 10 percent, it was fair use. However the Court set out the possibility that if publishers established a reasonable cost structure for limited copying of books, that universities (and others) may be required to pay for their copying, even if it was less than 10 percent of the book.
The case is another example of the inherent conflict between fair use and protecting the property interests of publishers and authors, brought on by technology, specifically scanning and the ease of electronic copying.
For a good detailed account of the reaction in academia, take a look at Scott Jaschik's report on the Higher Ed website. CLICK HERE.
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