download.jpegInside Higher Ed has an article about the current state of the Georgia State University e-reserve case. The case has the potential to have a huge impact on university libraries. I was unaware of it and found the report most interesting. Much more detail in the article.

Three large scholarly publishers – Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, and SAGE – sued officials at Georgia State University, claiming that the ways that course readings were being made available to students through electronic systems massively and systematically violated the publishers’ copyright. This is an important case, because what Georgia State does is not unlike what most academic institutions are doing: making selected readings available to students either through library e-reserves systems, through course management systems, or both. Publishers feel somebody should pay if so many students have access to this literature. Librarians feel they are applying the four factor test carefully and paying permissions only when the factors do not support fair use – because we can’t afford to pay over and over again just in case. Faculty want to expose their students to texts that are important to their courses but which are not included in textbooks, and asking students to pay for the privilege, article by article, would make that difficult if not impossible.

What I also found interesting is that, according to the article, the Copyright Clearance Center is partly funding the litigation on the plaintiffs’ behalf:

Incidentally, if you’re wondering where all that money for permissions goes, the ruling offers a hint. The Copyright Clearance Center, an organization designed to collect permission fees on behalf of publishers, is paying half the plaintiff’s costs. Your permission dollars are at work.

I’ve poked around the CCC website, and nowhere do I see anything saying that they are in the business of funding litigation. Maybe they are not as “friendly” as their press image tries to make them out to be.

Thanks to Michael von Glahn for the link.


  1. CCC isn’t about friendly or not-friendly. They’re about making it easy for the masses and masses of people who want to use tiny portions of many works to transact with the 100,000+ publishing companies in the US.

    They’re in the business of intermediation, as we say in finance. And as such, they provide a critical service for the information economy, one that takes enormous investments in systems in order to make micro-payments a viable option.

    For that sort of information ecology to work, though, people have to actually pay the micropayments.

    Unfortunately, fair use law has been based in part upon the assumption that the collection of micro-payments wasn’t viable. In this case, the tech is actually making the second half of the famous line (“. . . . information wants to be expensive”) realistic.

  2. Marion is right. This debate isn’t about whether a university library has to own 250 physical copies of a pricey Oxford University book simply because a prof with a large class during one semester wants his students to read a single chapter in that book. The Copyright Clearance Center offers a practical way for universities to supply and for students to legitimately buy a copy of a single chapter, typically on a per page basis.

    And keep in mind that publishers have a major incentive to keep that price reasonable. As long as a university has a single copy on reserve for students to check out, they can copy it for about 10-15 cents per page. Some may call that illegal, but no one could afford to sue for copying on that small a scale. It makes much more sense to sell legitimate copying as a convenience–say $5.00 for a nicely done, perfectly legal 25-page article versus $2.50 for a cockeyed copy scanned by the student when he’d rather be doing something else. As Steve Jobs famously observed about pirated music, “How much is your time worth?”

    And I might add that we’re yet to the point where digital copies of course materials are as valuable as a printed one that can be ruthlessly marked up and highlighted.

  3. It’s about time we rid ourselve of the delusion that copyright is beneficail to society.
    It’s as beneficial as capitalism!
    It’s not thatt the intent of the framers wasn’t in good faith, just that human nature wasn’t considered as much as it should have been in both cases.

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