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Court: Schools can publish small excerpts of texts online for students
Posted By eCampus News staff and wire reports On May 15, 2012 @ 9:40 am In Litigation,McClatchy,Online Learning,Policy,Top News | Comments Disabled
A federal judge in Atlanta has ruled mostly in favor of Georgia State University in a copyright case that would allow professors to continue posting excerpts of published works online for their students.
In a case closely watched by academia and publishers, Senior U.S. District Judge Orinda Evans rejected 69 copyright claims filed by Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, and Sage Publications. She found that Georgia State had violated copyright infringement law by using five longer excerpts from four books.
The suit was the first of its kind in the country and examined a key way college professors teach and students learn in the digital age.
In the lawsuit, publishers accused Georgia State of “massive” copyright violations for allowing professors to download and reproduce excerpts from published works for course materials without getting publishers’ permission or paying licensing fees.
The decision, if upheld on appeal, means students will continue to have easy access to excerpted academic and scholarly material posted in online reading rooms managed by colleges.
The publishers’ highly publicized lawsuit, filed in 2008, was heavily watched by research librarians across the country, and several blogged about the verdict, which was issued May 11, over the weekend.
“The judge’s ruling is significant not only for Georgia State University, but for all educational fair use in general,” Georgia State University President Mark P. Becker said. “While the broader implications of this case will be analyzed for weeks and months to come, Georgia State is very pleased to have been a trailblazer in this increasingly complex digital copyright environment.”
The case tested the application of the “fair use doctrine,” which allows someone to use published material without the consent of the copyright owner. It also limits the amount of material that can be used and serves to ensure that the use of copyright material does not diminish the market for it.
The decision highlights the importance of providing academic faculty a cost-effective, legal way to spread important knowledge to students, said Kerry Heyward, a Georgia State attorney.
“While the practicality of the ruling still needs to be determined, it will most definitely provide faculty across the country a clearer and more consistent road map on fair use,” Heyward said.
In a statement, the Association of American Publishers said that Georgia State, in response to the suit, scrapped its existing copyright policies and adopted a new one to correct practices that gave rise to the complaint.
The association also noted that the new policy did not achieve its objective because Evans found copyright infringements.
At the same time, the association expressed disappointment with the ruling and called Evans’ fair use analysis legally incorrect in some places and, as a result, instances of copyright infringement were incorrectly found to be permissible.
“If institutions such as [Georgia State] are allowed to offer substantial amounts of copyrighted content for free, publishers cannot sustain the creation of works of scholarship,” it said. The publishers’ litigation was financed by the nonprofit Copyright Clearance Center, which licenses copyright works for business and academia.
In her 350-page order, Evans said that when the Board of Regents introduced a new copyright policy for the University System in 2009, Georgia State tried to comply with the Copyright Act. “The truth is that fair use principles are notoriously difficult to apply,” she wrote.
The policy, which applies to the system’s 35 colleges, was implemented a year after the lawsuit was filed and tightened existing guidelines. Evans only considered claims against the new policy.
Evans acknowledged her ruling could be a “two-edged sword.” Allowing students access to unpaid, small excerpts of copyrighted works promotes the spread of knowledge because it reduces the cost of education, the judge said.
On the other hand, decreased income for publishers could reduce their ability to produce academic textbooks and scholarly works, thereby diminishing the spread of knowledge.
Evans said that “decidedly small” excerpts could be copied by Georgia State. In most circumstances, she determined, it is permissible for universities and colleges to copy 10 percent of a book or one chapter of a book with 10 or more chapters.
Brandon Butler, director of public policy initiatives for the Association of Research Libraries, said the publishers’ lawsuit had had a chilling effect on university libraries. “There was a feeling of being under siege,” he said. “They took us to court saying we were shameless pirates.”
Copyright (c) 2012, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Visit The Atlanta Journal-Constitution online at www.ajc.com . Distributed by MCT Information Services.
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