The Georgia State filing – A declaration of war on the faculty?

In another blog post on the Georgia State e-reserves case, Paul Courant, University Librarian (and former Provost) at the University of Michigan, argues that the plaintiffs (Cambridge & Oxford University Presses plus Sage, supported by the Copyright Clearance Center) have crossed the “boundary from adversary to enemy.” Two paragraphs quoted below–for the entire post, see

The plaintiff’s draft order applies formally only to Georgia State, but if the Court grants the plaintiffs what they seek, the result will be, in the words of Duke University’s Kevin Smith, “a nightmare scenario for higher education:” fair use would be destroyed, university faculty, students, and staff would be subjected to outrageously restrictive copyright policies, and every university would be required to hire a squad of copyright cops to ensure that faculty do the publishers’ bidding. And while it’s not an uncommon strategy to ask for far more than you expect to receive in a negotiation, which this proposed injunction surely is, your “highball” offer is certainly something that you wouldn’t mind having. What the plaintiffs are saying is that they are quite willing impose enormous costs on academic performance and academic freedom in exchange for higher profits. This is not the request of a friendly adversary; this is the attack of an enemy. (Yes, academic authors would also receive some financial benefit, but note that the typical split for incremental revenue is around 90-10 in favor of publishers, and that the additional revenue that publishers would receive under the plaintiffs’ draft order would be obtained NO additional cost incurred by the publishers beyond cashing checks and paying their lawyers.)

As a faculty member, I do not know that I could comply with the restrictions in the proposed injunction for using copyrighted material in my classroom; they are too onerous and much too expensive. As an author and an educator, I have a great respect for copyright law, and I believe in a balance between creating incentives for authors and promoting the ”progress of science and the useful arts.” The proposed injunction does not strike that balance; it unreasonably restricts access to copyrighted works, eliminates fair use, and will force professors to spend much of their time in an exercise of copyright self-censorship. Imagine that if every time you wanted to quote from a text, show an image, or distribute a handout to your students you had to seek the approval of the University Copyright Police; the consequences would be dramatic. (Lest you think I am exaggerating, check out the form that, were the publishers to have their way, faculty would have to fill out every time they put copyrighted works on electronic reserve.