Here's a selection of recent news articles and Weblog postings about the Georgia State copyright infringement lawsuit. See my prior postings for further information about the suit ("Georgia State Copyright Infringement Suit Coverage and Commentary" and "Georgia State Sued by Three Publishers for Alleged Digital Copyright Infringement in E-Reserves, Course Management, and Other Systems").
It is an estimate that electronic course packs now constitute half of all syllabus reading at American colleges and universities. . . . Cambridge University Press, for example charges 17 cents a page for each student for electronic use, and generally grants permission for use of as much as 20 percent of a book.
Indeed, the complaint notes that the three plaintiffs have published more than 100 books and monographs authored by GSU professors. That GSU is a nonprofit institution shouldn't have any bearing on how much unauthorized copying it can do, Smith [Frank Smith, Cambridge University Press] says.
"We're a nonprofit," he points out. "I assume they wouldn't want their classes flooded with students who weren't paying tuition, but you could say there's no extra cost to filling another desk. I'm sure they would resist that, and I could see why."
The educational area is one where courts have traditionally afforded a greater degree of leeway in fair use and even the plaintiff's lawyer has to admit that he can't find a law or binding precedent stating how much digital copying would be "not too much." It seems likely that if the case ever makes it as far as a decision that decision would be appealed. My personal opinion is that they'll work out a settlement before it gets that far—neither side wants to see a precedent set that would go against them. Plus there's a core reality that academic publishers and educational institutions exist in a kind of death-grip dependency that would harm both if it was violently broken.
The Association of American Publishers hired Qorvis to handle messaging for three academic publishers' copyright lawsuit against Georgia State University.
So, . . . what's left if you really, really, really believe that educators ought to be able to use whatever they need to and want to use in their classrooms without worrying about what it costs or whether it's fair use?
Consumer resistance, or OA.
If that case every reaches the stage of arguing the fair use defense, I hope the court will look very hard at the second fair use factor—the nature of the copyrighted work. Previously, the action on this factor has been minimal and has largely focused on published versus unpublished works and how much originality is necessary for "thick" or "thin" protection. But the economics of a particular segment of publishing, especially one as dysfunctional as scholarly publishing, ought to be considered when analyzing fair use, and factor two is a good place to do that. If the system is structured in a way that undermines the whole incentive purpose of copyright, as I have argued the scholarly publishing is, factor two, which really focuses on the expectations of creators of different types of works, should strongly favor an expansive application of fair use.
There are a number of possible outcomes in this case. Settlement is possible. The complaint itself is somewhat vague in its details; while specific examples are provided for some of the allegedly infringing uses, the publishers provide no specific details or examples of professors linking to course material from their open web pages, or any information about specifically infringing behaviors within the course management system. Although it claims the copying is in excess of what is permitted as fair use, the publishers do not offer a specific discussion of what it considers to be the bounds of fair use, nor does it adequately define course packs, nor offer any interpretation of the cited cases against copy shops, other than to broadly claim that they act as guiding precedence.