In anticipation of the trial starting on Monday in the copyright infringement case brought against Georgia State University by Cambridge, Oxford and Sage publishers, and partially financed by the Copyright Clearance Center, there has been a flurry of motions, mostly relating to the admission of various pieces of evidence. But amongst that deluge of paper is a truly frightening document, the proposed injunction that the plaintiffs are requesting if they win the case. I have always known that there was a lot a stake for higher education in this case, but the injunction the publishers want would be a nightmare scenario beyond even my most pessimistic imaginings.
First, if this injunction were adopted as proposed, it would enjoin everyone at Georgia State, including students, who would seem to largely lose their fair use rights by virtue of enrolling at GSU. It would apply to e-reserves, faculty web pages and any learning management systems in use or adopted in the future. It would make GSU responsible for every conceivable act of copying that took place on their campus. In short, administrators at Georgia State would have to look over the shoulders of each faculty member whenever they uploaded course material to an LMS or any other web page. Arguably, they would have to monitor student copying at copiers provided in their libraries, since GSU would be enjoined from “encouraging or facilitating” any copying, beyond a limit of about 4 pages, that was done without permission.
Not only would GSU have to micromanage each faculty member’s choices about how to teach every class, they would also have to give the plaintiff publishers access to all of the computer systems on campus so that they too could examine each professor’s decisions.
I can only imagine the angry reaction of faculty members if this requirement were actually imposed on our campuses; they might finally rebel against the exploitation they suffer from these “academic” publishers. In any case the order quite literally asks the impossible and was apparently written by people with no functional knowledge of how higher education actually works. The administrative costs alone would be staggering, not to mention the permission fees.
Permission fees are the real purpose here, of course. The goal is to drive more and more money to the Copyright Clearance Center, which is the only source of permission mentioned by name in the draft injunction. The way the injunction would accomplish this would be by entirely eliminating fair use for Georgia State.
There is absolutely no mention of fair use or section 107 of the copyright law in this proposed order. Instead, the coping that would be permitted without permission is entirely defined by the bright line rules of the 1976 Guidelines for Classroom Copying (see pp 68-70). Actually, it is the guidelines PLUS an additional requirement that is being sought as the sole standard for non-permissive copying.
The guidelines’ rule on brevity would entirely circumscribe such copying if this injunction were granted. That rule permits a copy of only 10% or 1000 words of a prose work, which ever is less. Many schools that adopt 10% as a fair use standard will be shocked to find that, under this definition, that is often still too much to be acceptable, since the 1000 word limit will usually take over.
Also, the rule about cumulative effect — a limit on the total number of excerpts that can be made — would be enforced across the entire institution. Two classes could not use the same work without paying permission, and Georgia State would be responsible for making sure that no system across its campus was providing access to any more than two excerpts (for the whole campus and of no more than 1000 words each) by the same author.
Added to these rules from the Guidelines is a new restriction, that no more than 10% of the total reading for any particular class could be provided through non-permissive copying. The point of this rule is nakedly obvious. If a campus had the temerity to decide that it was going to follow the rules strictly (since the flexibility which is the point of fair use would be gone) and make sure that all of its class readings fell within the guidelines, they still would be unable to avoid paying permission fees. Ninety percent of each class’s reading would be required, under this absurd order, to be provided through purchased works or copies for which permission fees were paid, no matter how short the excerpts were.
Not only would the minimum safe harbor for fair use that the guidelines say they are defining become a maximum — the sum total of fair use — but that maximum would be shrunk much further by this 10%/90% rule. The intentions of Congress in adopting fair use, including its clause about “multiple copies for classroom use,” would be mocked, gutted and discarded, at least for Georgia State.
I believe that compliance with this order, were the publishers to win their case and the Judge to adopt the proposed injunction, would be literally impossible. For one thing, the record keeping, monitoring and reporting requirements would cost more than any institution can afford, even if they were technically possible. Also, there is really no permission market that is broad and efficient enough to meet the demand that this order would create; the CCC might get what it paid for in underwriting the litigation if this order became the law for Georgia State, but they do not have the coverage, even with their Annual Campus License, to support this kind of regime if it were broadened to other campuses and other publishers. Yet you can be sure that if those things happen, all of our campuses would be pressured to adopt the “Georgia State model” in order to avoid litigation.
This proposed order, in short, represents a nightmare, a true dystopia, for higher education. We can only hope, I think, that Judge Evans is clear-sighted enough, and respectful enough of what Congress intended when it passed the 1976 Copyright Act, not to adopt this Orwellian proposal, even if she finds in favor of the plaintiffs. No judge likes to issue an order that cannot be obeyed, and this one would be so far outside the stated policies of the United States in its copyright law that an appellate court could, and likely would, overturn it purely on those grounds.
Policy on Electronic Course Content
For help deciding whether course content in Blackboard or some other digital form is fair use or requires copyright permission, consult this policy document adopted by the Academic Council in February 2008.
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- Dave Fernig on Going all in on GSU
- Gretchen McCord on Going all in on GSU
- In Georgia State University E-Reserves Case, Eleventh Circuit Endorses Flexible Approach to Fair Use | ARL Policy Notes on GSU appeal ruling — the more I read, the better it seems
- Paul Callister on Swimming in muddy waters
- Jim Neal on Free speech, fair use, and affirmative defenses