In 2008, Cambridge University Press, Sage Publications and Oxford University Press filed an intellectual property lawsuit in the U.S. District Court against Georgia State University. The publishers accused the University of copyright infringement relating to the distribution of published materials to students. The complaint was not that the University distributed excerpts, it was that they disseminated such a large amount of verbatim information.
Professors Have Special Fair Use Leeway In Copyright Infringement Cases
According to the Fair Use Doctrine (17 U.S.C. § 107), university professors are allowed to use copyrighted material in modest amounts to assist students in learning the subject matter.
Judge Evans’ ‘Two-Edged’ Fair Use Copyright Infringement Case Decision
Despite the teaching exceptions in the law, there has always been a limit to the amount of information that is allowed to be distributed without paying a licensing fee, as well as certain standards that must be met to qualify the use as “fair.”
Fair Use was adopted as part of the Copyright Act of 1976, well before the advent of the Internet. While it’s broad enough to encompass use on higher-education websites and within the curriculum of virtual universities, this is the first time a case has been presented to the court based on violation of the doctrine via online mediums.
The May 11, 2012 Decision of Senior U.S. District Judge Orinda Evans created quite a stir in both the scholarly community as well as the publishing industry. While Judge Evans found that Georgia State University did violate copyright infringement laws, in the instance of five excerpts, she rejected 69 of the copyright claims in the complaint. In the Decision, she stated that “fair use principles are notoriously difficult to apply” and set the standard that universities are permitted to reproduce no more than ten percent of a book or no more than one chapter from a book with more than ten chapters.
Judge Evans even stated that she understood her ruling to be a “two-edged sword” because allowing the reproduction of copyrighted works will promote the spread of knowledge, while at the same time potentially reducing the ability of publishers to produce those same academic textbooks that spread knowledge. If her decision is upheld by the Appeals Court, colleges and universities will be permitted to continue to manage online reading rooms that hold excerpts of scholarly works for students to read and download for educational purposes.
Counsel for the publishers were disappointed with Judge Evans’ decision, referencing that it was based on the 2009 copyright policy for the University System, which was introduced one year after the lawsuit was filed.
This case garnered a great deal of attention from publishers and the academic world as it sets the precedent for how universities and other educational institutions can use published works in their curriculum, especially in this digital age. It was the first case to both analyze what constitutes fair use and directly address non-profit higher education’s use of protected works. While the decision will stand as law for all universities and colleges in Georgia, it will be used as the persuasive authority for educational copyright cases throughout the United States.