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April 18, 2008
Publishers vs Academics
Ms Rowling is not the only one concerned with how much of her work others are taking. Law.com has a report from Janet Conley on a lawsuit by three academic publishers against Georgia State University.
At issue are incidents like a 32-page copy made by a music professor. The prof claims that the copying was within University guidelines ("no more than 20%") and that the cost of the volume ($250) was prohibitive for students to purchase. The publishers claim that the U's practice of digitizing and distributing course packs of excerpts costs them money in lost book sales.
The case is a little different from typical copyright suits such as the Rowling case. The publishers are not seeking monetary damages, nor are they particularly trying to punish the University. Instead what they're hoping to do is create a legal precedent saying that Georgia State's guidelines and practices do not constitute fair use and not only should this university be enjoined, but the multitude of other schools with similar practices should be stopped.
As Conley points out, this case may break new ground. Past cases have been decided on issues around the creation of paper copies (Xeroxing) often by for-profit institutions. In this case, the copying at issue is digital and the organization doing the copying is non-profit. The educational area is one where courts have traditionally afforded a greater degree of leeway in fair use and even the plaintiff's lawyer has to admit that he can't find a law or binding precedent stating how much digital copying would be "not too much." It seems likely that if the case ever makes it as far as a decision that decision would be appealed. My personal opinion is that they'll work out a settlement before it gets that far - neither side wants to see a precedent set that would go against them. Plus there's a core reality that academic publishers and educational institutions exist in a kind of death-grip dependency that would harm both if it was violently broken.
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