The Copyright Spectre
A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education discusses an impending court decision in, “federal case involving publishers and a state-university system, Cambridge University Press et al. v. Patton et al., should produce a ruling soon, and its stakes are high.” (Howard, Jennifer.”In Court, a University and Publishers Spar Over ‘Fair Use’ of Course Materials” Chronicle of Higher Education, March 14, 2010.) This case centers around the issue of whether the university, “was encouraging the unauthorized digital copying and distribution of too much copyrighted material, particularly through its ERes and uLearn systems.”
I’ll be honest, a lot of the arguments get a bit legalistic and technical so I’m not even going to attempt to summarize it here. Kevin Smith has posted an excellent explanation of the issue in his Scholarly Communications blog, “Summary judgment in the GSU case?” (Scholarly Communications Duke, March 9, 2010). Library Journal has also covered this issue in a March 11, 2010 posting (article?), “Georgia State University says infringement not proven; publishers criticize “checklist” Which also provides a nice summary of the issue. A sort of opposing viewpoint has been raised by Sandy Thatcher on the liblicense listerv and in some comments on Kevin Smith’s blog.
So now, I’ve raised the issue and told you where to go for more information, so you might say why post here at all? The timing of this is very interesting because I’ve recently been dealing with questions about including copies of articles in hospital CBL systems primarily for nurses in magnet situations or working for other accrediting/CE situations. The nuances of the questions we’ve been handling vary a bit, but the gist of the question I get asked is, if we are paying for online access to an article, why can’t we post copies of the articles wherever we like? (and I’m erring on the side of extreme caution in all my answers at this point – ie. no this is not allowed under copyright) It has made me think about the differences that the electronic access and subscriptions have made in terms of making it easier for our end users (including faculty) to place/make “copies” of articles (i.e. saving pdfs). It also clearly highlights the important distinction between access and permission to post articles. All I know is like all things in the management of electronic resources, it puts me in a position where I’m having to grapple with questions that just weren’t raised in our environment even a couple of years ago. It also highlights the distinction between copyright law and the contract law covered by our licensing agreements. Alas it also highlights the importance of knowing where those two (copyright/licenses) intersect and where they don’t.
Although I’m not following the Google Book Settlement as closely as others in the library world, this is certainly an issue that I’ll be needing to keep my eye on.