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Copyright Information and Guidelines: Georgia State Fair Use Case

This guide for the Bentley University community presents information on copyright and provides guidance in evaluating the use of copyrighted material in higher education and scholarship.

About the Georgia State Case

In April 2008, three prominent academic publishers (Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, and Sage) filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Georgia State University in response to the use of electronic course reserves and electronic course sites to make available excerpts from academic books to students enrolled in specific courses at GSU. The plaintiffs argued that the amount of material being used from individual sources exceeded the amount allowed under the fair use doctrine. It is worth noting that the lawsuit was funded by as much as 50% by the Copyright Clearance Center and the Association of American Publishers.

Below is a brief summary outlining the salient points of Judge Orlinda Evans’ ruling, issued on Friday, May 11, 2012. The decision has important implications to the future practice of using copyrighted material in academic instruction.

  • Judge Evans has upheld some of the conditions originally introduced in the Classroom Guidelines pertaining to the acceptable amount of a copyrighted work that may be used under fair use. This means that the "10% rule" still applies, that no more than 10% of works with 10 chapters or less, or one chapter for books more than 10 chapters can be used without permission. However, despite the plaintiff’s assertion that the previous Classroom Guidelines represent the maximum amount of copying allowable under fair use, the judge refused to adopt them as law. This means that in cases where use may reasonably exceed the delineated 10% rule, if the other four factors favor fair use, then such amounts would be lawful. In short, amounts in excess of 10% do not automatically violate fair use – all factors would need to be weighed individually.

  • Judge Evans rejected the publishers' claim that successive uses of material, whether under fair use and under licensing, constituted infringement, which means that readings that have initially undergone a successful fair use evaluation or proper licensing can be legally archived in Blackboard and used again in future semesters.

  • The publishers lost much of this case on the grounds that they had failed to provide adequate licensing mechanisms for their content. (It is difficult to claim infringement when legal alternatives are not made available). Judge Evans recommended that publishers consider offering readily available and reasonably priced methods for obtaining licenses for the use of their works.

Case Analysis

Consult these resources for further analysis of the Court's decision.