When Your Professor Doesn’t Make You Buy the Whole Book

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Written By admin at Monday, April 2nd, 2012


As physical media becomes less a part of our daily lives and people shift to electronic delivery, battles over digitized content are inevitable. Several academic publishers, backed by trade groups and copyright enforcement houses, are challenging practices at universities — most of which are public — to make electronic copies of course materials available to students online, Corporate Counsel reported.

A federal district court judge in Atlanta is expected to rule soon on Georgia State University’s “e-reserve” service, which lets professors post chapters of books for students when the entire book isn’t needed for a class. Judge Orinda Evans said during closing arguments that there’s “not a single case in the U.S. at any level that spells out what the standards are for fair use within a university like Georgia State,” according to Corporate Counsel.

The publishers asserted last summer that “defendants are fostering and condoning practices that pose a serious threat to the long-term viability of academic publishing,” according to court documents.

The university has argued that the fair use exception to copyrights applies broadly at nonprofit educational institutions, and says despite giving away some content, it remains an enormous paying consumer of academic literature, Corporate Counsel noted.

Under the 1976 Copyright Act, the fair use exemption applies to criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research. But the American Library Association cautions that Congress intended for fair use to be determined on a case-by-case basis, and while the law mentions educational and research activities, it shouldn’t be assumed that every use of a copyrighted work is fair.

Other suits around the country involve an educational video about the works of William Shakespeare being streamed on a library website at UCLA, and suits against HathiTrust — a partnership including Google, the University of Michigan and other academic institutions — concerning the digitizing of more than nine million works from college libraries.

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