[A2k] Christopher Shea: New front in the copyright wars

Manon Ress manon.ress at keionline.org
Wed Jun 1 12:08:48 PDT 2011

New Front in the Copyright Wars

By Christopher Shea

Under federal law, university professors are allowed to make “multiple
copies” of copyrighted documents “for classroom use.” On the other
hand, when they put together printed course packs, featuring multiple
articles, they typically must get permission from the publishers, and
students wind up paying hefty fees—sometimes hundreds of dollars per
course pack.

Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, SAGE
Publications, and other organizations have filed suit against
administrators at George State University, charging that the
university has abused the classroom copyright exemption by letting
professors post materials on their websites, where students access
them free of charge.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a roundtable discussion in which
voices on both sides of the issue square off. Siva Vaidhyanathan, a
professor of media studies and law at the University of Virginia, says
that if the publishers win, “I would fear for my job.”

    I wouldn’t fear that I would lose my job. I would fear that I
could not do my job. Soon after such an injunction, my university
would issue a memo instructing us how to adhere to the severe
restrictions that the court would have put on teaching. Fear that
would shoot through university counsels’ offices would generate a
panic not seen since the Red Scare. Every professor, adjunct, and
graduate student would be a potential source of a major lawsuit.
Universities would deputize librarians as copyright cops in an effort
to monitor and report everything we did in class. We would spend
hundreds of hours each September in huge meetings with lawyers, trying
to figure out how to comply with the ridiculous and unrealistic
limitations that the court would have put, as stipulated in the
injunction being requested (1,000 words!), on Georgia State.

David E. Shulenburger, a senior fellow at the Association of Public
and Land-Grant Universities, and former executive vice chancellor at
the University of Kansas, calls the suit “part of an undeclared war on
academic fair use … This stunning money grab should serve as a wake-up
call to academics; it shows that our core interest—the widest possible
access to information, especially in the classroom—is in direct
conflict with the interests of some of the publishers to whom we have
entrusted our scholarship.”

But from the precisely opposite vantage point, the director of the
University of North Carolina Press, Kate Douglas Torrey, also sees
very high stakes. Georgia State, she says, has “expand[ed] fair use
beyond recognition, and has ignored copyright principles.”

    Nothing less than the interdependent educational ecosystem, in
which widespread access for students is made possible by appropriate
compensation for authors and publishers, hangs in the balance.

To say Cambridge University Press et al. v. Patton et al. is a
much-watched case in academia would be an understatement.

Manon Anne Ress
Knowledge Ecology International
1621 Connecticut Ave, NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC 20009 USA
manon.ress at keionline.org

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