Update on Georgia State Copyright Case

The keenly watched copyright case that has pitted three academic publishers (Cambridge and Oxford University Presses and Sage)against Georgia State University has entered the appeals phase, with a flurry of filings and motions this week and more expected soon. One surprise motion has come from the U.S. Department of Justice, which has requested more time to consider filing an amicus brief either in support of the publishers or in support of neither party. The possibility that the government might weigh in triggered speculation and anxiety among some observers, including academic librarians worried that the Justice Department could sabotage educational fair use if it sides with the publishers against the university.

The case will be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

In their brief, filed on Monday, the publishers argue that, if the lower court’s ruling stands, it will have implications that go far beyond Georgia State’s practices. The publishers content that e-reserves amount to course packs or anthologies of reading material. They claim Judge Evans’s decision “invites universities nationwide to accelerate the migration of course-pack creation from paper to electronic format” and to sidestep legal permission to use copyrighted content. That pattern of behavior could undercut “the efficient licensing markets that have evolved to serve the needs of academic users” which, in turn, “would threaten the ongoing ability of academic publishers to continue to create works of scholarship,” they argue.

The Association of American University Presses plans to file an amicus brief on behalf of publishers on Monday, February 4.

Stay tuned!

Streaming Video Case Against UCLA Dismissed

A judge dismissed a lawsuit on Monday that had accused the University of California, Los Angeles of copyright infringement for streaming videos online. The lawsuit against UCLA was filed by the Association for Information Media and Equipment (AIME) and Ambrose Video Publishing Inc. in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Those plaintiffs claimed that UCLA had violated copyright and breached its contract by copying DVD’s of Shakespeare plays acquired from Ambrose and streaming them online for faculty and students to use in courses.

U.S. District Court Judge Consuelo B. Marshall found multiple problems with these arguments. Among the most important: He didn’t buy the plaintiffs’ claim that UCLA had waived its constitutional “sovereign immunity,” a principle that shields states—and state universities—from being sued without their consent in federal court. The judge also held that the association, which doesn’t own the copyrights at issue in the dispute, failed to establish its standing to bring the case.

The decision means “universities will have a little more breathing room for using media,” says James Grimmelmann, an associate professor at New York Law School. But the more important implication is that the case will be a precedent that universities can cite in future copyright disputes, Mr. Grimmelmann says. The UCLA decision will make the Authors Guild case against HathiTrust more of a long shot, he speculates. That battle, which concerns a collection of digital books that Google scanned from university libraries, also involves an association suing on behalf of copyright owners, and the target of the lawsuit is a digital repository hosted by a state institution, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. In addition to Michigan, defendants in the HathiTrust case include Cornell University, Indiana University, the University of California, and the University of Wisconsin. “That suit has almost exactly the same sovereign-immunity and standing problems as this one,” Mr. Grimmelmann says. “If the HathiTrust suit were to be decided tomorrow by the same court, it would be dismissed.”

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) hailed the UCLA victory as an especially welcome bit of good news, given all the copyright struggles dogging universities. But ARL pointed out in a blog post that the decision ”stops short of vindicating the strongest fair-use arguments in favor of streaming.” Kevin Smith, Duke University’s scholarly-communications officer, also noted in his own post that, because much of the dismissal hung on the sovereign-immunity question, “a major part of the decision applies only to state entities” and “does not translate to private universities.”

–Adapted from an article by Marc Perry in The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 4, 2011

Update on Georgia State lawsuit

The plaintiffs and the defendants in the fair-use lawsuit that has pitted three academic publishers against Georgia State University have now filed their final post-trial briefs. That was the last opportunity for each side to make its case before the federal judge overseeing the case in Atlanta delivers a ruling. No date has been set for a decision in the closely watched case, but observers say one is likely by early fall. Cambridge U. Press, Oxford U. Press, and SAGE Publications have alleged that the use of copyrighted material in e-reserves and on faculty Web sites has exceeded the bounds of fair use.

From the Chronicle of Higher Education, August 4, 2011.

Trial Date Set for High-Stakes Copyright Case Involving Georgia State U.

On May 16, the trial phase is scheduled to begin in a copyright-infringement case brought by publishers against Georgia State University, involving faculty use of copyrighted material in their courses. Publishers Weekly reports that the judge supervising the case dismissed several claims brought by the publishers’ group but allowed one count to stand.

Although the recently derailed Google Books settlement has dominated the news, the Georgia case, Cambridge University Press et al. v. Patton et al., may have a profound effect on how much previously published material professors can safely use.

–Josh Fischman, Chronicle of Higher Education, March 31, 2011