Two weeks ago the Copyright Clearance Center announced that it would offer a “blanket” license to college and university campus for permission to copy and distribute copyright protected material to students. The license offers to replace the time-consuming struggle to get and pay for permissions with a single yearly bill. Unfortunately, the blanket licenses apparently will not cover all, or even most, of the material frequently used by college classes. Even more unfortunately, dependence on a blanket license will further discourage university faculty members from considering whether or not their use of specific material is fair use. Fair use, like many other rights granted by law, can atrophy if it is not exercised.
In his current column in the Financial Times’ “New Technology Policy Forum,” Duke Law Professor James Boyle makes this point succintly and eloquently. He explains much more clearly than I can why the price tag on such a license, regardless of its monetary cost, may be much too high. His column should be read by anyone who wonders if a blanket license might relieve the uncertainties and stresses of relying on fair use. The consequences of such a decision, Boyle suggests, might in the long run be far more harmful to higher education.