gsu-logoA number of academic publishers are suing Georgia State University over its e-reserve practices, Ars Technica reports. E-reserves are electronic compilations of course material that professors put together for students to download in circumstances where they would not be using enough material to make it worthwhile for the students to buy entire books.

Colleges tend to claim that e-reserves fall under fair use, whose doctrine explicitly mentions making multiple copies of material for classroom use. However, publishers hold that the extent of some of these course packs crosses over into outright copyright infringement.

The outcome of the Georgia State University case could potentially have a very far-reaching impact—e-reserves are widely used by all universities, and precedents set by this case could affect all of them.


  1. GSU’s fair use claim is specious and it’s really just intellectually dishonest. Yes, while fair use does allow for the copying of content for “classroom use”, it is only when the content is transformed from it’s original intent does that apply. For example, this means you’re allowed to show clips from The Simpsons when talking about a topic like Economics but it does not mean you can copy passages from a Economics textbook and distribute it for free to the students of that class. If you only want a single chapter or passage from a textbook, you can go through the Copyright Clearance Center and have your students pay a very reasonable fee for access to the content. GSU has no leg to stand on here and they should know better.

  2. I strongly disagree with the above comment; with the connivance and maybe encouragement of universities, textbook publishing devolved into a huge scam perpetuated on students and like all such it could exist only as long as someone else had to pay for it – when I taught in college I was ashamed of requiring students every year to buy new textbooks of the same stuff because the problem were renumbered and pages rearranged so standard assignments could not be solved based on the year old book, but needed the new one.

    Now the cost squeezes on everyone is bringing the scam down since universities cannot squeeze students anymore and I think that GSU will win handily the case – they have a bunch of legal tools beside fair use including laws against suing state agencies at their disposal- already from what I understand the whole suit is one step away from being dismissed

    Morally anyway I think that textbook publishers are as bankrupt a lot as the RIAA and their cohorts and in this case where it is the gnat (textbook publishers) against the elephant (the academic establishment and the government behind it) rather than the elephant (the RIAA) against the gnat (the individual), the legal stuff will follow for once the morality

  3. If you consider eBooks as ‘real’ books then also consider that for hundreds of years students have had to purchase their books for college. If a textbook is being used in the class ‘packet’ then at least have the professor pay for a full copy; then–in my opinion–he should be allowed to distribute portions from the purchased books to his class under ‘fair use’. The prof could also use the piece for commentary/book review purposes under fair use, and perform a work-around that way.

  4. Liviu: Arguing the morality of the price of content is not the issue. The issue is the law as it stands today. Georgia State has plenty of options as far as selecting content, and the professors have decided they want to use content that is available for a price. You could have selected free or cheaper available resources for your courses too, but often times (though not always) the best content comes at a price. What a concept! If you don’t like the price, select a difference resource for your students, don’t steal it.

    Meredith: The purchase of a single copy in that instance would not work either and is not in the spirit or letter of fair use either. The content is not being ‘transformed’ in any way: the book was created for the specific use of education. Again, there is a process by which the university can have the students pay nominal fees (usually pennies per page) for the rights to the material. (quick aside: it would actually be the library purchasing the book, not the professor as professors always receive free copies of texts they use). Bottom Line: Georgia State University is trying to get around the payments to the Copyright Clearance Center and the publishers is and is being intellectually dishonest in their claim of fair use.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail