Tuesday, April 22, 2008

BPN 1076 Academic publishers sue US uni over digital course material

Three academic publishers are suing US Georgia State University for violating copyright laws by providing course reading material to students held in digital format. The three publishers are: Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press and Sage Publications. The university is using the material without seeking permission from the publishers or paying licensing fees. In a complaint filed in United States District Court in Atlanta, the lawyers for the publishers state that the university handles systematic, widespread and unauthorized copying and distribution of a vast amount of copyrighted works through its web site.

The lawsuit may be the first of its kind in the field of digital rights. In the past cases have been before the court on photocopying. In 1991 the first rulings in cases of photocopying have been handed out (Basic Books vs. Kinko), followed in 19092 by the case of Princeton University Press and others vs. Michigan Document Service. This case centres on compilations of reading materials from various books and journals, copying the reading materials digitally and distributing them electronically. Under the principle of fair use a certain amount of material could be allowed. But in the case of Georgia State University, the lawyers for the publishers state, that professors have been providing students with multiple chapters of a book without securing permissions and paying licensing fees to the copyright owners.

It is an estimate that electronic course packs now constitute half of all syllabus reading at American colleges and universities. The publishers have been in talks with the university officials as they have been with many other university officials. Usually an agreement has been settled. 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. It looks like the judge will have to prescribe the amount of fair use per book in terms of pages or chapters.

The case of the academic publishers vs. Georgia State University will turn around the fair use of the amount of materials such as multiple chapters. Complicating the case will be the payment for their course material by students, whether the charge is in the students’ fee or by separate payment.

I wonder whether there have been legal cases like this in the UK and Ireland or on the European continent. I know that in the Netherlands we have the so-called Reader regulation, establishing the price per page and the amount of photocopied material; as I have not heard of court cases (yet), I guess this regulation has been carried over to the world of digital course material.

Blog Posting Number: 1076


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