Category Archives: Licensing

Jury instructions go missing

Jury instructions are one of those things that few people, not even most lawyers, think about very often.  But if you are involved in a trial, they can be vitally important.  The ways in which juries are instructed on particular points of law can determine the outcome of a case, so litigants and the lawyers must spend a lot of time arguing over which instruction should be given and how they should be worded.  Many appeals revolve around the accuracy and appropriateness of the instructions that were given to a jury.

Because they are so important and potentially so contentious, most states develop model jury instructions, or “pattern” instructions, as they are called in North Carolina, for a great many legal doctrines and situations.  Access to these pattern instructions is important for litigants.  Although their use is not required in North Carolina, using a pattern instruction creates a presumption that the jury was properly instructed.  Also, specific variations that a litigant wants a judge to make in an instruction are best proposed as amendments to the pattern.

I admit that I have never consulted the North Carolina Pattern Jury Instructions.  Nevertheless, I was dismayed to receive this announcement from the North Carolina Bar Association telling me that the free access I had to the Pattern Instructions as a member of the Bar would soon be ending. The story it tells is interesting and instructive.

First, the Pattern Jury Instructions are developed by the North Carolina Conference of Superior Court Judges.  That is, they are created by state officials as part of their official duties.  But unlike documents created by Federal employees, there is a copyright in these instructions, and that copyright has been given to the University of North Carolina School of Government.  The SOG, in turn, has given a vendor called CX Corp an exclusive license to distribute the instructions.  For over a decade the Bar Association contracted with CX to provide access as a member benefit to NC lawyers, but that contract is expiring and efforts to renew it have failed.  A familiar story to librarians, of course, and probably due to the same, familiar reason that most licensing renewals fail — a demand for more money than the licensee feels it can pay.

For many North Carolina lawyers, the impact of this new regime will be minimal.  Medium and large firms will just factor in the cost and effort of getting an individual subscription to the Pattern Jury Instructions.  Presumably the UNC School of Government will realize more revenue from this gifted copyright.  But I worry about pro se litigants and those who are represented by solo practitioners or small firms.  Those folks might well be at a disadvantage in a crucial phase of a trial, the debate about how the jury will be instructed.  They will either have to scrape up the money to purchase a print or electronic version of the pattern instructions, find one of the relatively few public law libraries where they can consult them, or else risk advocating for instructions that will be more easily challenged and undermined.

From this unfortunate situation, I want to draw two points that I think are of general relevance to those of us who think about copyright matters.

First, it is an important reminder that we cannot assume that public documents intended for a public purpose are necessarily public domain.  The familiar provision in U.S. copyright law that puts documents created by the federal government in the public domain is, obviously, only about federal documents.  The states can and sometimes do claim copyright in official state documents.  They are often used as revenue sources, especially if there is a target audience of professionals, like building contractors or lawyers, from whom payment can be readily expected.

The problem with this situation is that the different states take different approaches to what is and is not in the public domain, and also that a single state may be wildly inconsistent about its approach to different types of documents it creates.  In most states, most official documents are public domain, at least in the practical sense that they are reasonably accessible without cost.  But odd things, like building codes or jury instructions or even an electronic database of the state’s laws, many be exclusively behind a pay wall.

The other instructive point in this is the realization that copyrights, especially those held by state and local government, may be used to enact policy goals that have nothing to do with copyright.  The purpose of copyright is, explicitly, to incentivize creation.  Presumably the NC Conference of Superior Court Judges did not need the promise of royalties in order to compile the Pattern Jury Instructions; creating those instructions was simply a part of good judicial practice for the state.  So here we had a copyright that wasn’t doing any work.  What can we do with it; how can we use it to make some money?  Here’s an idea, let’s give it to the UNC School of Government as an added revenue source!  They can exploit it in a way that would be inappropriate for the judges, and the state’s flagship public university can reap the benefit.

This isn’t necessarily a bad idea; at least, the purpose is worthwhile.  But it is a public policy that copyright was not intended to serve, and it is worth noting that this can happen, and that not all the policies that are supported this way will be equally laudable.  In the ideal world, states would be more transparent about what they claim a copyright in and why.  And elected representatives should be given the chance to approve, or not, those policy ends that are furthered by the exploitation of copyrights claimed in state documents.  At least that way, there would be some accountability when copyright is used for purposes other than that for which it was instituted.

While I was preparing this post, I encountered a somewhat parallel story about another legal document — the Bluebook that is the required citation manual for law students, lawyers, and litigants in many U.S. courts.  As the blog TechDirt reports, this is another case where access for impoverished litigants may be important, but copyright protection allows access restrictions that impose financial barriers.  Of course, unlike the Pattern Jury Instructions, the Bluebook is a privately created document, so there is less confusion about the appropriateness of the initial copyright.  Nevertheless, Carl Malamud and his Public Resource allies have mounted a campaign asking that the Bluebook be made more accessible and, as it turns out, finding grounds to challenge the continued existence of a copyright in the work.  Fascinating reading.

 

Planning for musical obsolescence

Gustavo Dudamel is one of the most celebrated conductors of his generation.  As Music Director of both the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Simon Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela, he has built a solid and enthusiastic following amongst lovers of symphonic music.  He is also, according to his website bio, deeply committed to “access to music for all.”  So it is particularly poignant that a recording by Dudamel should serve as the prime example of a new access problem for music.

When Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic release a new recording of a live performance of Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, it should be a significant event, another milestone in the interpretation of that great work.  But in this particular case we are entitled to wonder if the recording will really have any impact, or if it will drop into obscurity, almost unnoticed.

Why would such a question arise?  Because the Dudamel/LA Philharmonic recording was released only as a digital file and under licensing terms that make it impossible for libraries to purchase, preserve and make the work available.  When one goes to the LA Philharmonic site about this recording of Symphonie Fantastique and tries to purchase it, one is directed to the iTunes site, and the licensing terms that accompany the “purchase” — it is really just a license — restrict the user to personal uses.  Most librarians believe that this rules out traditional library functions, including lending for personal listening and use in a classroom.  Presumably, it would also prevent a library from reformatting the work for preservation purposes in order to help the recording outlive the inevitable obsolescence of the MP3 or MP4 format.  Remember that the section 108 authorization for preservation copying by libraries has restrictions on digital preservation and also explicitly allows contractual provisions to override that part of the law.

At a recent consultation to discuss this problem, it was interesting to note that several of the lawyers in the room encouraged the librarians to just download the music anyway and ignore the licensing terms, simply treating this piece of music like any other library acquisition.  Their argument was that iTunes and the LA Philharmonic really do not mean to prevent library acquisitions; they are just using a boilerplate license without full awareness of the impact of its terms.  But the librarians were unwilling.  Librarians as a group are very law-abiding and respectful of the rights of others.  And as a practical matter, libraries cannot build a collection by ignoring licensing terms; it would be even more confusing and uncertain than it is to try to comply with the myriad licensing terms we encounter every day!

In the particular case of the Dudamel recording of Berlioz, we know rather more about the situation than is normal, because a couple of intrepid librarians tried valiantly to pursue the issue.   Judy Tsou and John Vallier of the University of Washington tracked the rights back from the LA Philharmonic, through Deustche Grammophon to Universal Music Group, and engaged UMG in a negotiation for library-friendly licensing.  The response was, as librarians have come to expect, both inconsistent and discouraging.  First, Tsou and Vallier were told that an educational license for the download was impossible, but that UMG could license a CD.  Later, they dropped the idea of allowing the library to burn a CD from the MP3 and said an educational license for download was possible, but only for up to 25% of the “album.”  For this 25% there would be  a $250 processing fee as well as an unspecified additional charge that would make the total cost “a lot more” than the $250.  Even worse, the license would be limited to 2 years, making preservation impossible. The e-mail exchange asserts that UMG is “not able” to license more than 25% of the album for educational use, which suggests that part of the problem is that the rights ownership and licensing through to UMG is tangled.  But in any case, this is an impossible proposal.  The cost is absurd for one quarter of an album, and what sense does it make for a library to acquire only part of a performance like this for such a limited time? Such a proposal fundamentally misunderstands what libraries do and how important they are to our cultural memory.

Reading over the documents and messages in this exchange, it is not at all clear what role Maestro Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic have in this mess.  It is possible that they simply do not know how the recording is being licensed or that it is unavailable for libraries to acquire and preserve.  Or they may think that by releasing the recording in digital format only they are being up-to-date and actually encouraging access to music for everyone.  In either case, they have a responsibility to know more about the situation, because the state of affairs they have allowed impedes access, in direct contradiction to Maestro Dudamel’s express commitment, and it ensures that this recording will not be part of the ongoing canon of interpretation of Berlioz.

As far as access is concerned, the form of its release means that people who cannot afford an MP3 player will not be able to hear this recording.  Many of those people depend on libraries, and that option will be closed to them because libraries cannot acquire the album.  Also, access will become impossible at that inevitable point in time when this format for digital music becomes obsolete.  Maybe UMG and the Philharmonic will pay attention and release the recording on a different format before that happens, but maybe they won’t.  The most reliable source of preservation is libraries, and they will not be there to help with this one.  So access for listeners 20 or 30 years from now is very much in question.

This question of the future should have great consequence for Maestro Dudamel and the orchestra.  Without libraries that can collect their recording, how will it be used in classrooms in order to teach future generations of musicians?  Those who study Berlioz and examine the performance history of the Symphonie Fantastique simply may not know about this performance by Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic.  That performance, regardless of how brilliant it is, may get, at best, a footnote in the history of Berlioz — “In 2013 the Symphonie Fantastique was recorded by the LA Philharmonic under the baton of Gustavo Dudamel; unfortunately, that recording is now lost.”  These licensing terms matter, and without due attention to the consequences that seemingly harmless boilerplate like “personal use only” can produce, a great work of art may be doomed to obscurity.

Superrights for textbooks?

This past week there have been a lot of angry blog posts about the new “Connected Casebook” plan from Aspen Publishers (Wolters Kluwer Legal Education) that would attempt to deprive students of their rights under the First Sale doctrine in U.S. law to resell the books that they buy.  Aspen publishes case books — the textbooks made up largely of court decisions that are fundamental to the teaching in U.S. law schools.  With this new program they are “offering” students allegedly perpetual access to an online version of the book with digital tools, but attempting to require that the print version of the book be returned after the class is over, even if it is marked up and annotated.  The idea, of course, is to undercut the secondary market for print textbooks so that each student will have to pay $200+ for a new book package.

Many folks have already critically examined the plan, so I will just offer some links to those earlier posts — from law professors Josh Blackman and James Grimmelmann, from the Electronic Freedom Foundation and from the Washington Post.  It is worth noting that Professor Grimmelmann began a petition that includes a pledge from law professors not to assign Aspen casebooks.

Since these blog posts were posted, Wolters Kluwer has responded with a letter in which they clarify their intentions, stating that the Connected Casebook program will be an option for students, but that they will still be able to elect to buy a traditional print textbook in which they will have the right of first sale, meaning that they can resell the book once the class is over.

In spite of this plethora of words about the issue, I have several comments I want to make.

First, just a reminder that these attempts to undermine the right of first sale are an effort from publishers to gain a sort of “super” property right.  No other property owner expects to be able to sell their product and still be able to prevent the purchaser from making a resale.  To see the absurdity of this, imagine if Ford tried to shut down the market for used cars by including such a restriction in a purchase contract; it would be a quick way to go out of business.  If Aspen really cannot survive in a market where resale is an option — this has been the case in the U.S. for its entire history, as well as in the rest of the world for a long time — it is probably time for them to shut off the lights and go home.

At least I suppose we should be grateful that Aspen says this will be only an option, not the sole way in which textbooks can be obtained.  They are saying that the digital bells and whistles that they will offer with the Connected Casebook program are carrots intended to lure students into surrendering their first sale rights, not sticks that will coerce them.  In that light, it is interesting to consider if it will work.  Studies suggest that the included digital links and things associated with many textbooks do not get used very much.  I wonder if the price will be the same for the traditional textbook, with a resale option included, and the “Connected” casebook, which has outlining tools and allegedly lifetime access to the digital edition, but requires the renunciation of first sale rights?  As Professor Grimmelmann points out, “we know from sad experience that gerbils have better life expectancy than DRM platforms,” so lifetime access is really not very likely.  In any case, case books become outdated really quickly, and the large secondary market (that Aspen wants to curtail) indicates that students are not very interested in lifetime access.

Perhaps this new program should be a teaching moment for law professors.  Licensing and contract law are relevant to nearly every legal subject, after all, so any class in which an Aspen Casebook is assigned might begin with an opportunity for students to reflect on the decision they are asked to make and to explain their ultimate choice.  The interplay of price, features, expectations and rights would make for interesting reflections, and students could begin to try to decide if the restriction requiring return of the book is actually enforceable.

Enforceability does seem like a issue here.  The basic idea is to have students buy a package — print book and digital access — then use the license for the latter to curtail rights in the former.  But our courts have looked very unfavorably on licenses that attempt to curtail first sale, in cases as old as Bobbs-Merril v. Straus (1908) and as recent as Kirtsaeng v. Wiley (2012).  It is true that the Ninth Circuit recently did enforce a license restriction on first sale imposed on software CD-ROMs, but in that case (which seems dubious given the two Supreme Court precedents mentioned above) at least the license was for the same, singular product.  I am pretty confident that courts would be more skeptical of the Aspen license, which attempts to negate a long standing public right in a format that is not traditionally governed by licensing terms at all through the licensing of a different format.  A court challenge to this would be very interesting and would raise the issue, as the EFF notes, of what the boundaries of a sale really are.  Certainly if the scheme were ever imposed as the only option for obtaining these textbooks, it would cry out for an action on the part of law students seeking declaratory judgment on the issue of enforceability.

The biggest takeaway from this controversy should be a reminder of the opportunity to create open educational resources that can avoid all of these silly and desperate efforts from publishers to maintain control even after the sale of a book.  No field is more amenable to open textbooks than law, after all, where the large majority of the content, the cases themselves, are in the public domain.  The licensing problems for online casebooks are greatly reduced, and there are consequently already some excellent examples of open online law texts, including Grimmelmann on Internet law and Herbert Hovenkamp (himself the author of an Aspen casebook) on Innovation and Competition Policy.  I would love to see many of the over 300 law professors who have signed Grimmelmann’s petition commit to creating open online case books in their own fields of expertise.  If that happened, the problem would go away very quickly, and the cost of a legal education would be significantly reduced.

We need to remember that this model for textbook “sales” is likely to spread.  The various strategies that publishers have used to try to undermine the secondary market for textbooks are various and ongoing, as the recent Kirtsaeng v. Wiley case illustrates.  Although it is never put this way, this is part of an overall sense from academic publishers that they are entitled to a larger share of the money that students spend on education.  These strategies would always have the effect of making education more expensive, so we need to remain vigilant for the next such effort and resist it on behalf of the students we serve.

 

So what about self-archiving?

There is a persistent problem with polemics.  When writing to address someone else’s position with which one disagrees, it is easy to lose sight of the proverbial forest for the trees.

In my previous two posts, I was addressing a misunderstand that I am afraid might lead authors to be less attentive and assertive about their publication contracts than they should be.  The specific issue was whether or not it is feasible to maintain that a copyright is transferred only in a final version of a scholarly article, leaving copyright in earlier versions in the hands of the author.  I argued that this was not the case, that the distinction between versions is a construct used by publishers that has little legal meaning, and that author rights that do persist in earlier versions, as they often do, are created by the specific terms of a copyright transfer agreement (i.e., they are creatures of a license).  These points, which I believe are correct, prompted a number of people to get in touch with me, concerned about how these specific “trees” might impact the overall forest of self-archiving policies and practices.

So now I want to make several points that all address one conclusion; this argument about the nature of a copyright transfer does not necessarily have any significant impact on what we do to enhance and encourage self-archiving on our campuses.  Most of the practices I am aware of already take account of the argument I have been making, even if they are not explicit about it.

On the LibLicense list today, Professor Steven Harnad, who is a pioneer in the movement to self-archive scholarly papers, posted a 10-point strategy for accomplishing Green open access.  Essentially, he points out that a significant number of publishers (his number is 60%) allow authors to self-archive their final submitted versions of their articles, and that those who have retained this right should exercise it.  Elsevier is one such publisher, about which more later.  Harnad argues that there are other strategies available for authors whose copyright transfer agreements do not allow self-archiving of even the final manuscript.  One option is to deposit the manuscript in a repository but embargo access to it.  At least that accomplishes preservation and access to the article metadata, and it facilitates fulfillment of individual requests for a copy.  Another option is to deposit a pre-print (the version of the article before peer-review) in a pre-print repository, which is a solution that has long worked well in specific disciplines like physics and computer science.

All of these strategies are completely consistent with the point I have been making about copyright transfer agreements.  Harnad’s model recognizes that copyright is transferred (perhaps improvidently) to publishers, and is based on authors taking full advantage of the rights that are licensed back to them in that transaction.  This makes perfect sense to me and nothing I have written in my previous two posts diminishes from this strategy.

One of the questions I have received a couple of times involves campus open access policies and how they affect, or are affected by, copyright transfers.  These policies often assert a license in scholarly articles, so the question is essentially whether that license survives a transfer of copyright.

It is a basic principle of law, and common sense, that one cannot sell, or give away, more than one owns.  So if an author has granted a license to her institution before she transfers her rights to a publisher, it seems clear that the license should survive, or, to put it another way, that the rights that are transferred to the publisher are still subject to this prior license.  There was an excellent article written in 2012 by law professor Eric Priest about this situation, and his conclusion is “that permission mandates can create legally enforceable, durable nonexclusive licenses.”  The article provides an extensive analysis of the legal effect of this “Harvard-style” license, and is well worth being read in its entirety by all who are interested in the legal status of Green open access.

An additional wrinkle to the status of a prior license is provided by section 205(e) of the copyright law, which actually addresses the issue of “priority between conflicting transfer of ownership and nonexclusive license.”  This provision basically affirms what I have said above, that a license granted prior to a transfer of copyright survives the transfer and prevails over the rights now held by the transferee, IF it is evidenced by a written instrument.  Because of this provision, some schools that have a license that is created by an open access policy also get a document from the author at the time of OA deposit that affirms the existence of that license.  Such documentation helps ensure the survival of a policy-based license even after the copyright is later trnsferred to a publisher.

Even when we decide that a license for Green open access exists and has survived a copyright transfer, however, we still have a policy decision to make about how aggressively to assert that license.  Many institutional practices look to the terms of the copyright transfer and try to abide by the provisions found therein, usually relating to the version that can be used and when it can be made openly accessible.  They do this, I think, to avoid creating an uncomfortable situation for the authors.  Even if legally that license they granted would survive the transfer of rights, if a conflict with the publisher developed, the authors (whom we are, after all, trying to serve) would be in a difficult place.  So my personal preference is to conform our practice to reasonable publisher policies about self-archiving and to work with authors to get unreasonable policies changed, rather than to provoke a dispute.  But this is a policy matter for specific institutions.

Finally, I want to say a couple of things specifically about Elsevier, since it was Elsevier’s take down notices directed against author self-archiving that began this series of discussions.

Elsevier’s policies permit authors to self-archive the final manuscript version of an article but not the published version, and, as far as I know, all of its take down notices were directed against final published versions on institutional or commercial websites.  So it is true that in my opinion, based on the analysis I have presented over the past week, that Elsevier is legally justified in this take down campaign.  It may well be a stupid and self-defeating strategy — I think it is — but they have the legal right to pursue it.  Authors, however, also have the legal right, based on Elsevier’s policies that are incorporated into their copyright transfer agreements, to post an earlier version of the articles — the final author’s manuscript(s) — in place of these final published versions.  So I hope that every time a take down notice from Elsevier that is directed against the author of the work in question is received, the article that is taken down is replaced by a  final manuscript version of the same content.

As many know, Elsevier also has an foolish and offensive provision in its current copyright transfer agreement that says that authors are allowed to self-archive a final manuscript version of their article UNLESS there is an institutional mandate to do so.  As I have said before, this “you may if you don’t have to but not if you must” approach is an unjustifiable interference with academic freedom, since it is an attempt to tie faculty rights to specific policies that the faculty themselves adopt to further their own institutional and academic missions.  Elsevier should be ashamed to take this stance, and our institutions that value academic freedom should protest.  But based on what has been said above, we can also see how futile this approach really is.  If the institution has a policy-created license, that license probably survives the copyright transfer, as Eric Priest argues.  In that case, the denial of a self-archiving right only in cases where a license exists is meaningless precisely because that license does exist; authors could self-archive based on the license and do not need the grant of rights that Elsevier is petulantly withholding.  I said above that institutions should consider whether or not they want to provoke disputes by relying on the prior existence of a license to self-archive.  Elsevier, however, seems to have decided to provoke exactly that dispute with this provision, and they are even more unwise to do so since it is likely to be a losing proposition for them.

 

The problem with permission

Because Duke has begun teaching Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs), my office has gotten much more involved, over the past year, in the process of seeking permission to use copyrighted content.  We began a new service to help MOOC instructors make careful fair use decisions, find freely-licensed content for their courses, and get permission for materials where we deem it necessary.  The story of the first year of that service is told in this article that has just been published by D-Lib Magazine, written by Lauren Fowler, our first permissions intern, and me.

From the perspective of one asking a rights holder for permission to use some content, the process has a lot of frustration, some of which we detail in the article.  The most common frustration, as many people have discovered, is that so many rights holders simply do not respond.  They are not obligated to, of course, but even a simple “NO” would save lots of wasted effort and time on both sides of the exchange.  Yet a significant number of rights holders do not even send that; in our article we note that 23.5% of our requests garnered no reply at all, even after several contacts.

Sometimes, however, it is even more frustrating to receive a reply, because those answers often confirm that we are not dealing with a well-managed or carefully-administered process.  Frequently when we do get a response, what we hear back clearly indicates that the staff member who contacts us is unaware of what we have actually asked.  We have a carefully written request letter that is very clear about exactly the use we intend to make of the work if permission is granted, yet over and over the rights holder’s staff replies with inapposite questions or, amusingly, a grant of permission to do something else entirely.

One example can illustrate this humorous frustration.  Shortly before she left to take up a full-time library job, Ms. Fowler sent a letter to a major motion picture studio because one of our instructors wanted to use an illustration from a movie in a way that was probably fair use but for which we decided to ask permission, since it is a well-known picture and MOOCs are receiving so much attention and such large participation.  We got back a very nice message from a permissions rep saying that “the attached letter should cover your use.”  Unfortunately, the attached letter was a painstaking, though inaccurate, description of the exception for the public display of a copyrighted work in the course of face-to-face teaching.  I reviewed our multiple requests, and it seemed impossible not to understand that we were asking about an online use.  Yet we were told that a letter about physical classroom use, for which permission is not even required, would serve our purpose.  This left us at loss about how to proceed; we didn’t really have the needed permission, but it seemed like the rep was trying to grant it.  Maybe she just attached the wrong form letter.  So what do we do, as the time to make decisions about course content grows short?

It is certainly possible to conclude from the experiences we have had, which many others have also reported — see Susan Bielstein’s wonderful book on “Permissions, A Survival Guide” — that large rights holders simply are not interested in giving permission, or even in asking for permission fees.  The experience seems to confirm what the judge in the Georgia State case held in her ruling, that permission income is simply not that vital for most rights holders, so they invest very little time and energy into processing permission requests.

But recently I have dealt with two requests from the other side — requests directed at Duke from two large textbook publishers for permission for them to use content putatively owned by us in books they were publishing.  Astonishingly, the same laissez faire attitude seems to prevail when the big content company is doing the asking as it does when we are seeking permission from them.

In the first instance, a big textbook publishers sent an e-mail asking for permission to reuse an image, and a high-res scan of the image, to the Coordinator of Academic Support in our Office of Information Technology.  That person was clearly mystified — she is not engaged in IP issues or rights in any way — so she got in touch with me.  I could see very clearly that the image in question had been published by the Duke University Press, so we were able to redirect the request.  But we had to do the research (which was easy) because the company did not bother.

When this request finally reached the correct folks at Duke Press, they were shocked at the shoddy effort that the textbook publisher had made.  Even with more limited resources, I know from experience that DUP does much better work.  But the folks at the Press were inclined to see this as isolated incompetence on the part of a company with, it seems, a less than stellar reputation.  Unfortunately, the very next day I received confirmation that the problem is not isolated at all.

Yesterday I received a similar request from a different major textbook publisher.  It was directed to me, which is perhaps a little more sensible than selecting a random person from IT; I get these types of requests quite often, and routinely try to direct them to the right office.  But this one was especially difficult, because it just attached a scan of a page from a published work, and asked for permission to use “the attached.”  The request gave us no idea of where the page had been originally published, what part of that page was the focus of the request, or why the request had been sent to Duke in the first place.  An email to the publisher rep who sent the initial message told us that they were seeking permission to use only a single sentence quotation from the page, which is absurd.  And the request apparently came to us because of a connection between the publication and one of our collection centers.  So I forwarded it to the collection curator, but shook my head as I did so at the bumbling way these and so many other requests from permission come to us from those who yell loudest about the need to base our copyright system on permission.

It is hard not to conclude from these and similar experiences that the publishers sending the requests are not really interested in contacting the correct rights holder or in defining an appropriate scope for a license  They appear to simply be trying to collect paper — any message or letter that says the use is OK is sufficient to be filed away and forgotten.  From the other side, when we make a request for permission the same attitude prevails.  Little effort is made to accurately understand the request or craft an effective license.

Permission from a rights holder can solve many problems; it is an important part of a complete IP rights strategy in the digital environment.  But it is not a process for the faint of heart, nor a solution to be suggested lightly.  Even large professional publishers seem to find it overwhelming or, perhaps, not worth the investment of staff time and effort.  So when, in debates or litigation over copyright issues, rights holders groups assert that permission is the best solution and copyright exceptions should give way to a licensing process, we need to counter those claims by telling these sorts of stories.  Many of us can recount similar instances, and also catalog teaching opportunities that have been lost because permission was simply not available.  Judges and legislators need to know about these problems with permission, because they reenforce the wisdom — the necessity — of building exceptions into copyright and not relying on the whims and dubious competencies of rights holders to manage a permissions-based culture.

Is the CCC having an “Instagram” moment?

As many readers will know, the past few weeks have seen a couple of controversies over end user license agreements (EULAs) and Internet services.  In the library world, Yankee Book Peddler, an order fulfillment service, announced that they would introduce such an end user license whenever someone logged in to their ordering database.  The license terms included indemnifications and submission to the law of New Hampshire.  Both of these terms are impossible for most public institutions, and there was a lot of outcry.  Eventually, YBP withdrew its plan to introduce the EULA.  Then, earlier this week, there was a lot of controversy when Instagram announced that its new license would gave it the right to sell photos uploaded by subscribers, even for commercial purposes like advertising.  Again there was much consternation and an eventual repudiation of its earlier position from Instagram.

The use of EULAs for academic services instead of negotiating terms with each customer is especially problematic.  For one thing, those licenses often contain terms that are unacceptable and, for public institutions, may be invalidated by state laws and regulations over purchasing by state entities.  Worse, the EULAs are by definition required as a condition of use, meaning that the staff members who actually accept them are seldom the employees who actually have the authority to bind a university to a contract.

These considerations were in my mind when our e-reserves specialist informed this week about “new” licensing terms he had encountered when placing a request for a permission license with the Copyright Clearance Center.  A two and a half page set of terms was suddenly appearing with each order confirmation, and they contained a lot of the same troubling assertions that we saw with the proposed, but never implemented, YBP license.  Institutions indemnify CCC and agree to defend them against claims arising from any use outside the scope of the license.  Institutions agree to the application of New York law and the jurisdiction of New York courts.  Most distressing, each institution that uses the CCC agrees that that organization, which has been active in financing the legal case against Georgia State University, has the right to access and audit university records, which is not only a possible violation of our obligations under FERPA, but also seems like giving a potential adversary free pre-litigation discovery rights.

As with the proposed YBP license, several of the terms in this EULA are impossible for most public institutions, which usually cannot agree to indemnifications — because they could create an uncontrolled drain on taxpayer dollars — or submission to the laws and jurisdiction of another state.  Even for private institutions, which are not forbidden by law from agreeing to such terms, the license contains things we would try to negotiate around if the CCC had engaged us at the enterprise level rather than simply imposing these terms for acceptance by employees not actually empowered to do so.

Since I first learned about these terms on Tuesday, it has become less clear to me that they are actually new.  It turns out that our e-reserve employees have been clicking through an “accept the terms and conditions” box when they place orders with CCC for some time.  It is likely that other campus employees, including administrative assistants for departments, have done the same thing.  I simply do not know if these terms that suddenly appeared on the order confirmation are new, or just a more assertive way of making the older terms known.  In asking around, I discovered that at least one state university encountered and objected to similar terms several years ago, and negotiated separately with the CCC to arrive at a different agreement that supersedes any terms agreed to at end-user level.

My immediate reaction to these terms is that many of us will want to have similar negotiations to supersede this EULA, and that all of the CCC’s public customers will have to do so.  These terms might simply be invalid as a matter of state law for some public institutions, and they could be objected to by many other CCC customers on the basis that the end-users who must click through the license simply lack the authority to commit their employers to those terms.

For the record, I do not yet know what my own institution’s reaction will be; I have scheduled a conversation about the CCC terms with our Office of University Counsel.  But it still seems important to share the information about this new manifestation, at least, of terms that may well be unfamiliar to those folks who are actually responsible for contracting and purchasing decisions at their institutions.

I would be interested to hear from institutions that have already attempted to negotiate directly with CCC to supersede these terms.  I hope the comments to this post fill up with the news that others are way ahead of me and have acted to prevent the problems this license seems to cause.

Finally, I wonder what impact these licensing terms could have on a fair use argument, especially in light of the ruling by Judge Evans in the Georgia State case.  In that ruling, the Judge held that the fourth fair use factor, impact on the market for the original, favored the publisher (and so weighed against fair use) IF a license for the digital excerpt (not simply a license for another format) was “readily available at a reasonable price” (pp. 72 – 81 of the opinion).  My question is, could the licensing terms imposed by the CCC have an effect on whether or not the license is “readily available.”  If a public institution, including, possibly, Georgia State, is prevented by state law from accepting terms like the ones included in each permission transaction from the CCC, can that permission really be said to be readily available?  How can something be readily available if it is conditioned upon acceptance of an agreement that the institution is not allowed to accept?  And if such a license cannot really be considered readily available, how dramatically does that impact the fair use analysis, especially in those cases where a publisher will not accept permission requests except through the CCC?

As I say, we are still deciding what these licensing terms, whether they are brand new or of long-standing, mean for our business with the CCC.  But it seems likely that for some institutions, at least, these terms make the use of that permission service an impossibility unless they negotiate a superseding agreement.  And for many of the rest of us, this added roadblock will cause us to rethink where and when we can purchase licenses, and when we must rely on fair use simply because we have no other feasible alternative.

Why boycott Elsevier?

The snowballing petition on which scholars pledge to boycott Elsevier is gaining a good deal of attention.  There is an article in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education, and this more general article about the future of Elsevier’s business model from Forbes.  As of today the boycott pledge has over 2100 signatures.

As the Chronicle article points out, the petition lists three “charges” against Elsevier:  their extremely high prices, the practice of “bundling” so that institutions have to buy journals they do not want in order to get the ones they do and hence have less money to buy other things, and corporate support for the Research Works Act and other legislation that would threaten the free flow of information.

While I agree that all of these things are significant problems in the current scholarly communications environment, I have to say that Elsevier is not the only “sinner” guilty of these infractions, or necessarily even the most culpable among commercial publishers.  This does not mean I am particularly sympathetic to Elsevier, and I am glad to see the petition for a couple of reasons.

First, the boycott movement is coming from scholars themselves.  It is not simply a matter of radical militant librarians (some of my favorite people, btw) who are upset about high prices.  This petition represents a growing awareness amongst scholarly authors that traditional publication models not only are no longer the only option, but in fact may be bad choices for those concerned with the overall dissemination of knowledge.  It is simply becoming clearer to many scholars that the values they hold are not the same as the ones that commercial publishers are pursuing.

Second, when framed as a divergence of values it is much easier to see that the core issue in this movement is who will control the the changing course of scholarly communications and the scholarly record.  It seems less and less acceptable to trust commercial publishers with the responsibility for scholarship now that we no longer will be dependent on the printed artifacts they created.  As scholarship becomes digital, we are quite rightly seeking new models of control that serve the needs of scholars first, regardless of the business models that may thereby be left behind.

One of the reasons I do not believe in the “abolish copyright” movement is because I think the control over how a work is disseminated and used by others will continue to remain important to scholarly authors.  Copyright desperately needs reform (or else it needs more scholarly authors who use Creative Commons licenses to leverage their economic rights to protect things like attribution, which actually matter to academics) but it is not likely to become irrelevant in the digital environment.  Instead, scholars will seek new ways to use the rights that vest in them (not their publishers) to control their works in ways that best serve their own needs and the interests of their particular discipline.  Boycotting Elsevier may not bring about that revolution by itself, but it is a step toward demanding that the rights and concerns of scholarly authors themselves actually drive decisions about how scholarship is shared in the digital environment.

When is “exclusive” really not?

In our previous post we talked about the relatively easy fair use call involved in the Brownmark Films case decided by the district court in Wisconsin.  Before the court even got to that issue, however, it had to decide a procedural issue that has potential ramifications for scholarly publishing.  Who can grant an exclusive license?

In the Brownmark case the original video that was allegedly infringed was, as most video and an increasing number of scholarly articles are, a work of joint authorship.  That means that each copyright holder owns an equal and undivided share of the rights, and each can exercise those rights independently and authorize others to do so.  Under long-standing precedents, each joint holder of a copyright can license the rights to third parties without the approval of the other rights holder, subject only to a duty to account to those other rights holders for any profits made.  But in Brownmark the issue arose (as it has before) of whether or not the licenses given by a single co-owner of a copyright can ever be exclusive.

To illustrate the situation we are dealing with, lets assume there are three co-owners of copyright in a particular work, whom we will call A, B, and C.  Let’s further assume that A and B are not involved in the transaction in question, or in the court case (as was the case in Brownmark).  So, acting on his own, C gives a license (which he calls exclusive) to Y, who is now our licensee.  Later on, someone comes along and allegedly infringes on the work and Y wants to sue.  A potential plaintiff only has standing to bring a lawsuit, however, if they hold an exclusive right.  So the accused infringer defends by saying that Y is not allowed to file the suit, since they could not have obtained an exclusive license from C because C did not own the entire right in the first place.  This is the situation we must examine.

In an earlier case (called Sybersound v. UAV), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a co-owner of a copyright could never give an exclusive license.  This is the intuitive position, I think, because any license C gives to Y will still be subject to other licenses potentially granted by A and B to other parties.  What sense does it make to call Y’s license exclusive if other people — even a great many other people — may also have the right to do exactly the same thing, simply by licensing that right from a different co-owner?

In spite of this intuitive appeal, the Brownmark court choose not to follow Sybersound.  Their concern was that if there could not be an exclusive license, the licensee was left with no way whatever to enforce his right.  While the judge admitted that it was linguistically odd to call a license “exclusive” even when there could easily be multiple parties licensed to exercise the same right, he felt that the alternative was worse, since it created a situation where no one was able to enforce the particular right (unless, of course, all of the co-owners agreed).

I don’t know if this split within the Federal courts will eventually reach the Supreme Court for resolution or not.  But I do know that whichever way it goes, the situation for scholarly articles written by multiple authors is problematic.  It is often the case that A, B, C and sometimes many others are authors of an article and therefore co-owners (assuming each contributed protected expression).  Usually one author is designated a “corresponding author” and completes all the paperwork with the publisher.  The question is what the corresponding author, as a co-owner of the copyright, is legally able to convey to the publisher.  Whichever court we follow, the question proves difficult.

If  we follow the Ninth Circuit, our corresponding author is not capable of executing an exclusive license; even if her entire interest is transferred to the publisher, the rights obtained thereby are not exclusive and another author could, for example, release the article on the Web under a Creative Commons license.  And in that Circuit, the publisher would lack standing to even bring a lawsuit to defend the rights it thought it had obtained. But if we follow the Wisconsin District Court the situation is only marginally better.  The license is now called “exclusive,” and the publisher could bring a lawsuit against an wholly unauthorized third party to prevent infringement.  Nevertheless, it remains the case that other authors could grant licenses in spite of the linguistically-challenged “exclusive” license given by the corresponding author.  So it is still possible that the publisher obtains an exclusive license and yet the work could be distributed world-wide under a CC license by another of the joint authors.

Publishers usually attempt to avoid this situation by asking the corresponding author to warrant that she has permission to grant the copyright transfer or license on behalf of all co-authors.  This might be an effective technique, but unless the corresponding author actually has written permission from each co-author,  it ultimately depends on the somewhat various state laws regarding “agency.”  In other words, a federal court hearing an infringement case and faced with a challenge to the right of the publisher to bring the suit would need to look at the applicable state law and decide if the publisher was justified in relying on “apparent authority” in accepting the corresponding author as an agent for all the other authors.  In the alternative, a publisher could insist that all joint authors sign the publication agreement, but in an age when scientific articles often have dozens of authors, this seems impractical as well.

The techniques of scholarly publishing have worked well for many years; I know of very few (legal) disputes that have arisen amongst co-authors over publishing an article.  But as articles are credited to longer and longer lists of authors, and the Internet offers an opportunity for each of those authors to decide on a more direct form of distribution, the uncertainty reflected by the Sybersound and Brownmark cases threatens to become increasingly problematic.

Licenses, prices, fair use and GSU

When the trial of the Georgia State copyright infringement lawsuit closed last month, the Judge asked both sides to file post-trial briefs, outlining their proposals for findings of fact and conclusions of law that they think the court should make.  They are extensive documents, representing the last chance each side has to make its arguments, and they are now available on the Justia website (docket numbers 409 through 411, with responsive arguments from each side at 414 and 415).  More about these documents in just a moment.

Before these documents were filed, however, there was an interesting contrast set up by a couple of unrelated publications.  First, Tom Allen of the Association of American Publishers (one of the groups paying the plaintiff’s legal fees) published an opinion piece in Publisher’s Weekly arguing that the Annual Academic Copyright License that the publishers say is a solution to the infringement they allege would only cost GSU $114,000, or about $3.75 per student (there are replies to this assertion here and here).  Second, there was a news story and much comment about the price increase being imposed on Canadian universities for their copyright licenses from Access Copyright, which is going up from a few dollars per student to $45/FTE.  The juxtaposition of these stories prompted the question of why it was costing so much more in Canada to license copying of protected works.

I think there are two answers to the question of why the Canadian license costs so much more.  The first is that the $3.75/student number for the CCC license does not strike me as realistic; it is certainly much less than my university, with a smaller student body, was quoted.  I suspect it is a “first year” discounted rate that would rise very quickly, which is the model we were presented with.  But the more important reason for the difference is that the Canadian license is a compulsory one, created by the Copyright Board of Canada, and therefore comprehensive.  Regardless of what you think about the price, when a university buys a license from Access Copyright, it covers pretty much all of the copying of educational material done on campus.  By contrast, the Annual Academic Copyright License from the Copyright Clearance Center is very far from comprehensive; only a relatively small percentage of publishers license their works this way.  Not all the publishers that license through the CCC, and not even all the plaintiffs in the GSU case, allow their works to be used under this blanket license; Cambridge University Press was forced to admit during trial that their material would not have been covered even if GSU had purchased the AACL.  So the price difference becomes explicable – you pay less to get less.

By the way, this claim about how cheap the AACL is elicited a very telling question from Andrew Albanese of Publisher’s Weekly, who asked if these three publishers had really decided to sue 4 million dollar per year customers for only $114,000.  The answer clearly is that they expect much greater profits if they win.

Now let’s go back to the last set of filings.  Reading the plaintiffs’ brief, I was struck forcefully by the realization that they are asking the Judge to eliminate fair use virtually entirely for academia and instead substitute a compulsory license.  This is especially clear when you see in their proposed injunction a requirement that permission be obtained for 90% of the readings in any course, regardless of whether or not some or all of that 90% could be considered fair use (under the extremely restrictive definition provided in the proposal).  This is essentially asking the court to force a license even where the law – under anyone’s interpretation — does not require it.  So it begs the question, can the AACL function as a compulsory license?  I think three observations should be made.

  1. For the AACL to function as a compulsory license, it needs much broader coverage.  It cannot play the role that the GSU plaintiffs would assign to it until everyone, or nearly everyone, licenses their materials through it.  If the Judge were to agree to the plaintiffs’ injunction, she would have to order those three publishers, at least, to license their work comprehensively through the AACL.
  2. The example of Access Copyright shows us that the price for the AACL will inevitably go up if it moves towards a role as a compulsory license.  In fact, you can find a list of Canadian universities that have decided to forgo the Access Copyright license because of its huge price increase here.  So the rhetoric about what a good deal it is, already suspect, would become irrelevant.
  3. Compulsory licenses nearly always require continuing judicial oversight due to the threat of monopolistic pricing and anti-trust concerns.  Sometimes a government board plays that oversight role, as with Access Copyright in Canada or the Copyright Royalty Board and cable rebroadcast in the US, and sometimes a judge does it, as in the oversight of ASCAP.  Is Judge Evans prepared to pull the CCC before her and keep them there in order to ensure a functional licensing scheme?

Of course, all of this speculation is irrelevant if the Judge accepts the fair use argument that is advanced by the defendants.  Their brief states that argument very compellingly, in my opinion.  Two points struck me with particular force.

First, the defendants address the frequent claim made by publishers that the Supreme Court, in Campbell v. Acuff Rose Music, has limited fair use to situations that are transformative and that copies for educational purposes are not transformative.  The defendants proposed Conclusions of Law point out that Campbell itself expressly renounced this claim in two ways.  First, it explicitly noted that “transformative use is not absolutely necessary for a finding of fair use.”  Then, in a footnote (number 11), the Campbell Court stated that “The obvious statutory exception to this focus on transformative uses is the straight reproduction of multiple copies for classroom distribution.”  You seldom get such devastating language to direct against one of your opponent’s central contentions.

The second really important aspect of the defendants’ proposed Conclusions of Law is this simple (if grammatically awkward) statement, which ought to be repeated like a mantra whenever fair use is discussed, because it is so obviously right: “The fair use defense would mean nothing if it addressed only those uses that plaintiffs have not developed a mechanism by which to charge for such portions of the work.”

Fair use is frequently described as flexible and as an “equitable rule of reason.”  The value of defendants’ arguments in this case is that they aim to defend this reasoned flexibility and ask the judge to avoid both of the common, and mistaken, constrictions of fair use – to either only those cases where an original is transformed or only cases where a “market failure” has occurred.  Both of these conceptions would reduce fair use to a mechanical test that would contradict its avowed intent and application over the past 170 years.

Contract preemption: an issue to watch

Back in December I wrote about the lawsuit that has finally been filed against UCLA claiming that the policy of streaming digitized view for course-related viewing is copyright infringement.  Late in January UCLA responded with a motion asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim.

The alleged lack of jurisdiction is based on a claim of sovereign immunity, the idea that the federal courts cannot hear most cases against a state entity as part of the Constitutional scheme called, confusingly, “federalism.”  That argument is the bulk of the motion.  But there is another issue, one of several involving the alleged vacuity of the claims against UCLA, that caught my attention.

As I noted in my earlier post, the complaint by AIME and Ambrose Video asserts that at least some of the videos at issue are under license and that digitizing and streaming those videos is a breach of that contractual agreement.  I questioned earlier whether the license being claimed was, or should be, cognizable.  But UCLA is making a different claim in its motion to dismiss, that the state breach of contract claim based on a license is preempted by federal law.

Section 301 of the Copyright Act says that state laws that create ” legal or equitable rights that are equivalent” to the exclusive rights in copyright are preempted.  Thus state or common law copyrights are mostly superseded by the 1976 federal Act.  But two questions have long remained: whether or not this meant that state enforcement of contracts governing intellectual property could be preempted, and what rights are “equivalent” to copyrights.

We routinely assume that “contracts trump copyright;” libraries are told that all the time regarding the databases they license, and they often pass the message on to users.  It is generally correct. In one of the most cited cases on this point, ProCD v. Zeidenberg, Judge Easterbrook of the 6th Circuit held that a contract creates rights only between the specific parties and thus those rights are not “exclusive” and so not preempted.  But the question remains somewhat unsettled, and UCLA is exploiting an apparent loophole in the general rule that we have mostly taken for granted.

In an 8th Circuit case that the Supreme Court left standing, National Car Rental Systems v. Computer Associates, preemption was denied, but the denial was based on interesting reasoning — that the contract covered the use of the intellectual property, and that use was simply not one of the exclusive copyrights.  Professor Nimmer, perhaps the foremost authority on U.S. copyright, picks up this reasoning and suggests that a contract that attempts  to “serve as a subterfuge to control nothing other than the reproduction, adaptation, public distribution, etc.” of copyrighted works should be preempted.  So a contract controlling how licensed property could be used — who could access it, for example — would be enforceable under state contract law, but one that dealt with reproduction, distribution and the other exclusive rights would not be.

UCLA applies this reasoning to say that the alleged video licenses should be preempted insofar as they would govern whether or not making a copy for digital distribution is allowed, since this would be equivalent to the rights under copyright.  The upshot of this argument would be that schools could not license away their right to make fair use of content they license, since fair use is a limitation on the exclusive rights and thus part of what would be preempted in any contract action.  Fair use would have to be decided on its own terms, spelled out in section 107 of the Copyright Act, and could not be “ruled out of court” by a contract.

I have long maintained that non-negotiable contracts (like shrink wrap licenses) should be preempted by federal copyright law, so that one does not give up rights like fair use without a chance to discuss and defend them.  If UCLA argument is successful, it would suggest a broader rule, that contracts that abrogate fair use and other aspects of copyrights exclusive rights scheme would always be preempted.  I have no idea if this will fly in the District Court; the case might get dismissed on sovereign immunity grounds so that the issue would not even be addressed.  And even if UCLA prevailed on this point, an appeal would be likely.  So I am not suggesting that we change our long-standing belief that contracts trump copyright in most case, just that we watch this issue carefully and consider its full ramifications.